Monday, 10 January 2011

Lapland Longspur in banding cage captured by Sharp-shinned Hawk



Snow Buntings, Plectrophenax nivalis approaching the bird bander's cage.


Lapland Longspur, Calcarius lapponicus in the cage


Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus on top of cage


Lapland Longspur captured by Sharp-shinned Hawk

While travelling the rural roads near Metz, Ontario we encountered a large flock of Snow Buntings, with a single Lapland Longspur keeping company in the flock.
There was a licenced bird bander present for the principal purpose of banding Snow Buntings, a practice we have witnessed in previous years. In order to capture the birds he uses a cage on the ground, baited with corn, with one-way access into the enclosure.
As the pictures above show, it was verging on serendipitous to watch the longspur enter the cage with four Snow Buntings. Within minutes and certainly before the bander got out of his truck to empty the cages, a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in and landed on top of the cage, no doubt attracted by the distress of the birds inside who were now flapping and doing everything possible to escape from their confines.
The hawk lost no time in inserting its talons into the pen and quickly caught the Lapland Longspur and made several attempts to get its beak into position to dispatch its prey, but without success given the relatively small mesh of the cage. By now the bird bander was on his way and when he got to within two or three metres the hawk dropped the longspur and flew off. The bird was examined by the bander and released immediately. Much to our surprise it could still fly and sped across the field with the Sharp-shinned Hawk in quick pursuit. As far as we could tell the longspur was not recaptured and the hawk dropped down into the field and then moved to the side of the road where it had nothing in its talons.
Whether the Lapland Longspur can possibly survive this ordeal is open to question, but it was a gripping, albeit somewhat distressing, drama to watch.
Our brother-in-law, John Lichty, was with us and the longspur was a lifer for him; a lifer I am sure he will not soon forget!


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