Raptor Battle Royale

Spring is in full swing, flowers are blooming, animals are courting…and fierce battles for territory are being waged all around.

Yesterday, I watched a rock-em-sock-em, no-holds-barred battle in the sky! It started with a Red-tailed Hawk flying over Venetucci Farm, with what looked like nesting material in its talons. I had seen a pair in a dead tree earlier and even had one “scream” at me. All this added up to a nest somewhere nearby, probably in the top of a Cottonwood tree, in the riparian forest along Fountain Creek.

While contemplating this tranquil scene there was a sudden blur of white and black as a Swainson’s Hawk dove at the Red-tailed. The Red-tailed quickly flipped upside down, in mid-air, with talons stretched upwards towards its attacker. The aerial “dog fight” continued as after a few more dives by the Swainson’s Hawk, a second Swainson’s joined the attack. The two then took turns diving at the Red-tailed which was kept on the defensive.

After a couple of minutes of this onslaught a second Red-tailed seemed to appear out of nowhere and the Swainson’s Hawks drifted away. I finally located the stick nest atop a Cottonwood tree and this morning a hawk was sitting on it with its head barely protruding. Red-tailed or Swainson’s, that is the question.

Red-tailed Hawks have dominated the air space over Venetucci with Swainson’s Hawks only making guest day hunting appearances. Raptors are very territorial so most likely this battle was a fight for a territory in which to hunt and raise young. With at least three active raptor nests to monitor, at least two occupied by Red-taileds, it will be must see reality TV as this drama unfolds!

Red Tail Nestling 1289 2012_06_11 - Copy
Red-tailed Hawk nestling on a now presumed abandoned nest on the border of Venetucci Farm and Pinello Ranch. Photo: Diane French
Swainson's Hawk 5-4-12 Jeannie Mitchell
Swainson’s Hawk flying over Pinello Ranch. The dark trailing edge of the wings is one easy field mark to differentiate it from Red-Taileds. Photo: Jeannie Mitchell
GHO owlet DF 5-10-13
Also entering this territorial free-for-all is the Great Horned-Owl which are famous for expropriating nests from other birds. In this case, they evicted a pair of Red-tailed Hawks from this nest. A severed Red-tailed Hawk wing was found on the ground underneath the nest. Photo: Diane French

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