Mob rule common in birds
Have you ever looked skyward to see a hawk in flight being hotly pursued and pecked on by several tiny birds? This behavior is known as mobbing and it is an effective way for songbirds to drive off larger predators.Ravens will gang up on a golden eagle, diving and pecking at the eagle’s head, wings and tail. Although an eagle has far greater striking power, the mobbing ravens are faster and more maneuverable. The ravens, of course, are careful to dodge the eagle’s deadly talons.
I’ve seen tiny songbirds mobbing ravens – it’s akin to jet fighters picking on a 747. Getting mobbed cannot only damage precious feathers, but also leaves a lasting psychological impression on the mobbed bird.A birder’s trick to bringing songbirds out into view is to imitate the call of the northern pygmy owl. A northern pygmy owl is a miniature, 6-inch owl that hunts songbirds in broad daylight. Its call can easily be mimicked with a single, whistled note repeated again and again, much like a back up beeper on a truck.
Once, I was invited on a winter birding trip to the Grand Mesa by my birding friend, Brad Benter. We were in search of the white-winged crossbill, which rarely wanders to Colorado from the far north. We set out on cross-country skis on that frigid snowy day and had been out for a couple of hours only to see a single gray jay. Brad then cleverly imitated the call of the northern pygmy owl. All of the birds in the area immediately responded, ready to mob. Out popped a couple of chickadees, then several pine siskins, then a red crossbill, and finally, two of the elusive white-winged crossbills.
By closely watching and interpreting the behavior of our local birds, we can all gain insight into an aspect of the natural world that surrounds us in our daily lives. Tom and Tanya Wiesen are the owners of Trailwise Guides; a year-round Vail Valley guide service specializing in wilderness hiking, backcountry mountain biking, bird watching, and natural history tours. Contact Trailwise at (970) 827-5363.
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