Sep 22 2010

Thumbtacked to the Sky? Not!

Published by at 7:18 am under Birds of Prey

At midday Tuesday I walked to the Cathedral of Learning to find the peregrines, but no one was home.  Instead I saw a tiny speck floating in the deep blue sky above campus.  Was it a balloon? 

Through binoculars I identified an adult red-tailed hawk, motionless as if thumbtacked to the sky.  The heat gave her lift and the wind was just right to hold her aloft without moving her wings.  Sometimes she dropped her legs to create drag, then pulled them up to her motionless position.  Slowly, slowly she drifted out of sight.

I forgot about the hawk and walked the Lawn to check the north face for peregrines.  I had just decided none were there when the red-tailed hawk whooshed over my head.  Barely clearing the treetops, she dropped low over the central lawn, folded up her wings, lowered her talons and nearly — nearly — caught something on the ground at the hedges.  At the last minute the prey escaped.  The hawk pulled up quickly, flew over the heads of three pedestrians and popped over the hillside toward Forbes Avenue. 

Yow!  I was seriously impressed! 

Peregrines fly like fighter jets but red-tails normally maneuver like 747’s.  This was the first time in years that the flight of a red-tailed hawk made my heart go pit-a-pat. 

It’s amazing what a 747 can do in a tight spot. 

(photo of an immature red-tailed hawk on the hunt by Kim Steininger)

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Thumbtacked to the Sky? Not!”

  1. Danon 22 Sep 2010 at 7:59 am

    Oh, a red-tail is not like a 747—that may be a condor or an albatross. While a red-tail may not stoop the way a peregrine does they are quite agile and excellent fliers. My understanding is that peregrines hunt off the wing attacking other birds, and that red-tails tend to hunt off the perch attacking rabbits and squirrels. So, if a peregrine is an F-16 Fighting Falcon then a red-tail is more like an A-10 Thunderbolt, good for ground attacks.

  2. Kate St. Johnon 22 Sep 2010 at 9:47 am

    Very cool, Dan!
    I don’t know many airplane models but what about the C-130 for the albatross & the 747 for a bald eagle? The possibilities are endless.
    (For those of you who haven’t seen the A-10, it looks like this:

  3. Kathyon 22 Sep 2010 at 11:44 am

    What an incredible experience.

  4. barbaraon 22 Sep 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Oh, I would have loved to have been there to see that action! My jaw would have dropped. — barbara

  5. Marianneon 22 Sep 2010 at 5:47 pm

    It sounds like a close encounter of the bird kind.

    That would be so cool to experience! You must be a bird magnet!

  6. Anne Curtison 24 Sep 2010 at 2:13 am

    Kate–Does this mean the peregrines have moved on? You wrote some time ago that they don’t “play well with each other”, or is that only when the P’s are nesting?

    A raptor has returned to the dead tree across the hill from our house. I’ve walked the dog in the area, but I can’t find the tree! There are a lot of private roads and byways, so I get lost, sort of. I can’t see far enough from here to ID him/her , but it’s very obvious when the bird is up there, monitoring Beeler/Forbes/Murdoch Farms. The bird is solitary, and my husband said he saw what he thought was a red-tail, flying low over Unger Ln. As well he should be! We have chipmunks, a resident groundhog, and lately 4 wild turkeys in the back yard.

    BTW, excellent letter in the PG about Marcellus Shale drilling.


  7. Kate St. Johnon 24 Sep 2010 at 6:38 am

    The peregrines are still at Pitt. In fact, one was roosting with its face to the wall while the red-tail hunted on campus. If the peregrine had been awake, the red-tail would probably have left the area without performing this stunt.

  8. NDPeteron 25 Sep 2010 at 10:37 am

    Hadn’t read this post for a few days and now see the comment about a peregrine being there during the red-tail’s antics. The reason I came back though was just to share that among a boring morning of robins, jays, starlings and downy woodpeckers in Scheneley, I did get a treat when on my way by the Cathedral there was a peregrine perched up on the antenna.

  9. Sophiaon 06 Oct 2010 at 3:27 am

    On Tuesday afternoon I saw what I *think* was an immature red-tailed hawk feasting on a pigeon on a ledge on Allen Hall! I could see it right outside the window of the Learning Research and Development Center. I got some pictures, but my cell phone camera is really bad, and the pictures didn’t zoom close enough to see identifiable details.

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