(cont…) Raptors, like people, can build up or lose confidence. A particularly successful bird will become increasingly brazen in its attacks on prey, because having an established track record reinforces its notion of its own capabilities. In this case, a family of Harris’ Hawks had stumbled upon a literal gold mine, if raptor gold consisted of a predator-proof area fenced off to provide safety for pronghorn females and their fawns.
The fenced area was originally designed to protect the mothers and young from terrestrial predators, and by doing so it also allowed an abundance of small game species, like rabbits, quail, and a number of rodents, to flourish within its confines. Hawks, though, aren’t terribly encumbered by the idea of an electrified fence, and the enclosure provided more than ample food for the family group to thrive upon. They did more than thrive, in fact. Having so many small animals living in a relatively confined area meant that the hawks could literally hunt and kill to their hearts’ content, or at least until their crops were full. The problem, and Liberty’s subsequent involvement, came about when the hawks decided that the pronghorn fawns were within the range of catchable game.
Federal and state biologists tasked with monitoring the pronghorn herd witnessed the Harris’ family employing their traditional group hunting tactics on a young fawn, driving it into the open and buzzing it from multiple directions, like a World War II warship being dive-bombed from every angle. The hawks didn’t actually kill it, but the attack itself sparked a panic, due to the amount of money invested in helping the endangered Sonoran Pronghorn recover. In Harris’ Hawk groups, the males take the lead in predatory activities, despite their comparatively diminutive size. In this case, Liberty volunteers trapped out the instigating male, and with him no longer there to lead the charge, the other birds moved on.
The male was later released by Liberty Wildlife alongside a group of orphaned Harris’ Hawks that we had rehabbed, forming a new family group. One benefit to being a young Harris’ Hawk is that, by living in a family group, they can benefit from the hunting expertise of their elders in a way in which young from other species, having left the nest and their parents behind, cannot. Vicarious experience amongst members of these families counts for a great deal. The male bird, though smaller than his female companions in the Cabeza Prieta family, was by far the aggressor, and every kill he scored made him that much more confident of the next. Like anything, practice makes perfect, and hunting to survive is no different.
Especially when you have a family to feed.