Hawks and Vultures on a Windy Day

Late this morning – another beautiful, sunny, colorful fall day – a Red-tailed Hawk, a Black Vulture and a Turkey Vulture all soared high in a big, deep-blue sky with not a cloud in sight. Both Vultures flew fast, in a way that looked sweeping, sailing and exuberant, as if they loved the speed of the wind, like daredevil skiers. The Black Vulture, its white wing-tips flashing when they caught the sun, and its wings held out flat and steady, flew higher and more aggressively, and soon was little more than a speck in the blue. The Turkey Vulture tilted crazily and flew in wide circles, sliding down the wind in a way that almost looked out of control at times, though I’m sure it was not. The Hawk flew more deliberately, looking more powerful and more in control – a master of the wind, rather than abandoning itself to the wind so freely as the Vultures seem to do.

At one point as I watched, the Red-tailed Hawk circled around and turned into the wind and hung in the air, almost motionless, as if suspended, moving only its wings and tail slightly. Then it turned and sailed away downwind. In a minute or two, it reappeared and did this again, hanging suspended almost directly above me for several seconds. It was impressive to watch, and I almost could not believe the way it seemed to hold itself so still in the sky. Later, I found this passage in Hawks in Flight (1988), by Pete Dunne, David Sibley and Clay Sutton: “Only the Red-tailed and Ferruginous hawks are capable of kiting – holding themselves immobile into the wind on set wings like a kite tugging against a string. Any bird that loses its forward momentum and holds fast over a spot east of Missouri may with virtual certainty be identified as a Red-tailed Hawk.”

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