Diurnal and Nocturnal Raptors – June 2011

Cactus removed from GHO

(cont…) Hawks and other diurnal birds have terrible eyesight in darkness. As sunset approaches, they seek out roosting spots, because once evening is upon them, they have no choice but to stay where they are. Even the mightiest hawk is utterly helpless at night, and the larger owl species, being in their element once the sun recedes, will sometimes take advantage of that fact. You might not think that territoriality would be an issue between predatory birds that work opposite shifts, but powerful owl species like the great horned owl occasionally kill roosting hawks, even big ones like red-tailed hawks, if they stumble upon their hiding places. Great horned owls do much of their hunting during the dusk hours, before total darkness, and as such, they retain some level of vision in lighted conditions. As a result, they aren’t quite as vulnerable during the day as hawks are at night. The owl can change perches if disturbed, while the hawk’s only recourse is to locate a place to hunker down before it gets dark, and then try to be inconspicuous until morning.

That said, many owls find the tables turned during the day, being chased around by angry hawks asserting their claim to the hunting grounds. Someone recently brought a young great horned owl into Liberty after he saw it crash, face-first, into a cholla cactus in broad daylight. The reason for the collision? A large, irritated-looking hawk was chasing the owl through the desert. The young great horned, fleeing for its life, made a wrong turn and found itself turned into a living pin cushion with hundreds of cactus needles that had to be meticulously plucked out, one by one, by our staff.

Owls and diurnal raptors are two sides of the same coin. The violence towards one another goes beyond the fact that predatory efficiency breeds competition. Most raptors are territorial, but it requires a great effort to kill a competitor on equal footing, especially if you can both fly. Most raptors are content with simply chasing their rivals off. That relative equality goes out the window with hawks and owls, because they have two clearly separate spheres of dominance, determined by the time of day. Forever taking turns, one rules the skies while the other can only hide and hope no one notices.

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