Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who owns the air rights above Madison's Owen Conservation Park? The hawks? Or the crows?

Who Owns the Air Rights Above Owen Conservation Park in Madison?
You'll often find red-tailed hawks wheeling lazily above Owen Park, while crows fly back and forth between the oaks, usually keeping up a stream of raucous conversation -- especially when they see a hawk. I always assumed the crows were afraid of the big, fierce hawks. Was I ever wrong. I had to rethink things the other day, after I took this photo.

I had looked up and seen a hawk and a crow locked in what looked like a World War I-style aerial dogfight. They curlicued across the sky in tight circles, each jockeying for position, until they disappeared behind some trees. A moment later, the hawk flew off alone, into the distance, out of the park altogether. It was hard to tell who started it, but I assumed the hawk had been trying to catch the crow, until the crow finally got away, maybe finding protective cover with some other crows. That's what I thought. But the pictures showed the crow clearly harassing the hawk, not the other way around, and the crow must have succeeded in driving away the hawk.

I checked some references and found this wasn't an exception to the rule, but rather the rule itself. Crows compete with hawks for territory and tend to harass the hawks, sometimes singly, but usually in groups. Crows outmaneuver hawks in the air, which seems to drive the hawks nuts -- the crows are like nimble little fighter planes attacking bombers that have little ability to maneuver. The crows don't seem to hurt the hawks, but just to irritate them. Very occasionally a hawk will get even by catching and killing an unwary crow, usually while it's intent on something on the ground. But the sky seems to belong to the crows.

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