The Red Tailed Hawk’s Guide to Hitchhikers

The red tailed hawk perched less than 20 feet from the adult great blue heron and stared at the nest, thinking no doubt about tasty eggs for dinner.

Red tailed hawk being mobbed, with a bird perched on the back of his head.

Red tailed hawk being mobbed, with a bird perched on his head.

I wrote the above lines in a post about the symbiotic relationship between cormorants and great blue herons, and how cormorants seemed to stand sentry over the nest. (If you missed that post, you can click here to catch up.)

Other birds also had a presence on the nesting island while the eggs and then chicks were growing that summer, and blue jays in particular created a noisy ruckus when a red tailed hawk ventured too near.

Red tailed hawk being mobbed, with a amaller bird perched on the back of his head.

Smaller bird perching on a red tailed hawk.

On many occasions, smaller birds would mob a hawk that had circled close to the island. That’s not surprising at all.

What was surprising, though, was that one of the small mobbing birds landed on the much larger hawk’s head or shoulder, and hung on to the hawk while the hawk flew on, trying to escape the mob.

The mob consisted of several different kinds of birds, including blue jays and grackles. On this day, the bird on the hawk’s head is a blue jay. On a different day when I was lucky enough to witness a red tailed hawk with a hitchhiker, it was a grackle on the hawk’s shoulder.

This is one of those occasions when a 600mm lens would have been great, except that I photograph from a moving kayak on often-rolling waters. It wouldn’t be prudent, as someone famous used to say.


Thanks to the kind folks at Skywatch Friday.

Thanks once more to Prairiebirder Charlotte for her Feathers on Friday prompt.

Thanks again to Stewart Moncton for the Wild Bird Wednesday prompt.


(The photos here were taken July 4, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (

Posted on October 18, 2013, in Birds, daily prompt, Feathers on Friday, Kayaking, Nature Photography, postaday, Red tailed hawk, Skywatch Friday, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wild Bird Wednesday, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. awesome story and photos! I have read this before:

    never seen it in person, but I would love to!

    • Thanks for your kind comment and the link to the redwinged blackbirds on he hawk. I had seen that before and longed to have had the gear to capture my hitchhiker with the same quality. Amazing, isn’t it?

  2. Wow, that’s a brave blue jay.

  3. My brother coined the term “hawk surfing” for when the smaller birds attack a hawk. I most often see red-winged blackbirds hawk surfing, but many others will as well, as your photos show.

  4. Lovely shots! Happy sky watching.

    My sky.

  5. Crows do this to Baldies…..actually just about every bird out there does this to Baldies or any other raptor around.
    I’ve never seen a smaller perch on a Baldie? They are a huge bird but can overturn themselves in a blink of a eye!

  1. Pingback: Feathers on Friday | Prairie Birder

  2. Pingback: Cornell red-tailed hawks nest update | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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