Bird Pwns Moth, Crowd Cheers!!!

I have now been out for two drives in a row during which I did NOT see a bald eagle. Until now, almost every drive I’ve been on this year had yielded at least one. But, there is always something: last night a big red tail and the other day the usual egrets and an urban vulture.

But I would have had very different, and interesting luck had I gone to the Twins game last night.

A miniature falcon, which I assume was a kestrel, found a hunting perch in the stadium, and from that location grabbed and consumed a number of moths, as the fans watched and cheered. There are two especially interesting things about this event, as far as I can tell. First, hawks are more interesting than oriels. The Minnesota twins were playing Baltimore, and most people spent more time watching the hawk, and cheering him when he caught a moth (if you listen to the crowd in the video below, you can hear this at about 35 seconds). It turns out that instead of a multi-zillion dollar out door stadium (just built) we could have entertained the masses with a bit of park land and a couple of bird feeders. Which I already knew, but apparently some other people didn’t.

The second thing was that this was happening at night. A kestrel invading the bat niche. What I hear is that this bird is hunting at this location regularly. I wonder what will happen if some bats show up some evening?

I suppose there will be some poetic justice, given that we’re talking about baseball. You know, baseball, played with bats? Get it? (I dunno, maybe I’m off base, but I think that’s funny. Hey, blogging is no walk in the park, you know! I can’t hit a home run every time!)

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments area below, and I’ll try to field them. If they’re not totally out of left field, that is.

(I use the term “hawk” in the vernacular sense as it is used locally, which is probably a bad thing. A kestrel is a falcon, which is a sister group of the hawks. But at some level, they are all dinosaurs, of course. )

Comments

  1. #1 Fuzz Buzz
    May 7, 2010

    We are all massively overcomplicated bacteria by that logic.

  2. Sure enough, it is an American Kestrel. I saw it when I was at Tuesday night’s game. You’re right that Kestrel’s and Hawks are considered separate though the American Kestrel also used to be called a Sparrow Hawk (and so were a bunch of other birds.) The primary noticeable difference is wing shape. You’re right that they don’t usually hunt at night but it was dark early last night due to the rain. In mid summer it is still light out until pretty late and they are opportunistic. How could a bird pass up on a feast like this. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of this bird.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    May 7, 2010

    TCN: Thanks for stopping in! Yes,sometimes I get as pedantic as the next guy when it comes to names, but I also contradict myself by seeing common names as silly in this regard. So I’ll correct someone if they say “Canadian goose” because there is an official set of “common” (i.e. not binomial latin) names for birds (more so than most other animals) but there is no bird called “Hawk” (or, for that matter, “Falcon” as far as I know). And Americans tend to use “hawk” for “raptor” (and off course, by some definitions, a vulture is a raptor even though they don’t hunt, and a crow is a raptor even though they are corvids)

    The Twins lost to he Orioles, but the Orioles lost to the Kestrel.

  4. #4 Jim Thomerson
    May 7, 2010

    I saw a pair of caracara’s circling around this morning. A couple of months ago one lit on a nearby utility pole. I don’t see them very often, about once a year on average. (south of Austin, TX.)

  5. #5 notedscholar
    May 7, 2010

    It is interesting that humans will naturally have a preference for hawks over moths in a predatory situation. I wonder what the crowd’s reaction would have been if millions of moths suddenly devoured the hawk!

    NS

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    May 7, 2010

    Or one vampire moth, bite to the neck, bird spirals into the outfield, gasping.

  7. #7 John
    May 8, 2010

    That’s a happier story than the one from Phoenix a few years ago, when a luckless pigeon picked off one of Randy Johnson’s 95 MPH heaters. Pitcher, batter, catcher and ump were all mystified.

  8. #8 Crudely Wrott
    May 8, 2010

    The turkey vultures have returned to the Miami Valley here in Ohio. I’m not sure which day or hour but it was recently. On Thursday this week I was reminded as I was negotiating a tricky section of SR 725 in the company van.

    My eye was caught by what looked like a large bird just going behind that tree there. I had to brake and turn against a contrary camber in the road and by the time I could look skyward again the previous blur had cleared the tree and was banking away from me. It only took on glance at the splayed primaries to identify the blur as Cathartidae and then immediately as turkey buzzard.

    (What a name; turkey buzzard! My father used to call some of his friends “old buzzards” in much the same way as one might chide a friend as being a “crazy motherfucker” or an “old fool.” Funny how that works. These days I favor another of his favorite descriptions. Of someone who was championing something with little merit or usefulness he would declare, “You’re riding a colt, son.” If your father was a cowboy you understand.)

    Any way, as soon as I had the old buzzard in my sights it made a sharp bank to the right, lost considerable altitude and zipped through the upper branches of a sycamore. This informed me that it was not on a normal seek and eat flight pattern. Sure enough, just as I had to return my attention to a reducing radius downhill left hander I saw a tiny mote emerge from behind the sycamore and accelerate towards the old buzzard.

    I squealed the tires a bit under late braking and it took a couple of seconds to locate the buzzard again.For a couple of seconds I had an unobstructed view of its flight pattern; ah! evasive action. Now I know what the tiny mote must be: little bird!

    Judging by flight pattern and size I guess it was sparrow. They don’t like any birds larger then they are. Sort of like how some people feel aggressive when some one bigger shows up. It may have been a finch since at a glance its flight patterns are similar to sparrows’. No matter had it been a common blackbird, a red-wing, a grackle. Little ones swoop and peck; big ones cruise and dodge.

    For years I’ve watched this kind of aerial encounter where the little ones harass the big ones and have long nurtured the idea that the big ones, the buzzards and hawks and ravens, don’t mind it so much. Something in their flight patterns shows restraint and tolerance even as they twist and dive away from the sharp beaks of their tiny tormentors. That attitude is honorable, I think. Also practical. So is the attitude of the little birds, who feel act in protection of their territory and their young.

    On the other hand, the story of the Kestrel and the Moth just goes to show who’s really the boss, even if both parties are well mannered or not. Fly, bird, or die. Fly, moth, or die. To all, eat! and in your turn, be eaten.

    Your nature post are frequently inspiring, nostalgic even, Greg. Thanks.

  9. #9 Son of Koko
    May 8, 2010

    If the genetic evidence from a recent study holds up, falcons may turn out to be distantly related to hawks, and more closely related to parrots and songbirds. This would cause a serious reworking of the order that bears their name. (Falconiformes)

    Falcons are always a delight to see. I’ve seen kestrels hovering for minutes before swooping in on an unsuspecting dragonfly or field mouse. I’ve also observed merlins catching smaller birds on the wing.

    @Crudely
    Whenever I hear a noisy group(murder?)of crows, I look up to see if they’re harassing a hawk or owl. The crows, in turn, are frequesntly divebombed by blackbirds, starlings or other smaller birds.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    May 8, 2010

    There may be a perigrine falcon nesting near me somewhere. Last year, I saw one hunting pigeons ( http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2009/05/the_falcon_eats_tonight.php ) and the other day I saw one fry over our driveway. The problem around here is nesting sites; It should not be hard to figure out a small number of candidate sites.

  11. #11 Myjah
    May 8, 2010

    I took that video!

    It’s Kirby the Kestrel!! He has been there several different days.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    May 8, 2010

    Myjah! Wazzaaah. So, what do you think this bird’s name should be? Or should I say these birds (it makes sense that there is a pair, there usually is).

    Kirby the Kestrel must be the name of one of them.

  13. #13 Crudely Wrott
    May 9, 2010

    @ Son of Koko

    Yeah, I look up too when I hear birds make a sudden ruckus. I figure they must be onto something, what with being able to fly and look down on it all and stuff like that there.

    I’m so jealous.

  14. #14 Bjorn Watland
    May 9, 2010

    We happened to be at many games this week and saw the kestrel on Tuesday night, but the game was more interesting then the bird, so not too many people paid attention. Thursday night was a different story, which became obvious when I heard people making a racket over in right field. I thought they were trying to start the wave, but they were hypnotized by a bird, which was much more interesting then the game at hand.