Close Encounters Man vs. Nature

Blackbird hitches a ride atop a red-tailed hawk

Remarkable image is one of a series captured by a photographer during a recent trip to a Northern California wildlife area

Brave Little Balckbird

Earlier this week we shared vivid photos of red-tailed hawks engaged in a dogfight with two ravens that were interested in the raptors’ nest and babies.

The image atop this post might be even more incredible—or at least unique. It shows a red-winged blackbird standing on the back of a red-tailed hawk, looking as if it’s catching a ride to another destination.

Sonoma Spring-62

The series of images were captured recently by photographer Eric Dugan at Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area in Northern California. They first appeared in a San Francisco Chronicle story written by outdoors columnist Tom Stienstra.

Dugan described the event:

“I was exploring the wildlife refuge and heard the screech of a red-tailed hawk, loud and repeated. I scanned the sky but didn’t see anything at first. Then, in the distance, I saw a young red-tailed hawk sitting on a telephone pole and the red-winged blackbirds were jumping on and off its back and head, apparently to drive it away from a nesting area.

 

“I immediately stopped, changed to my long lens, and set up my camera in anticipation for the show. As I walked closer, I anticipated that the hawk would take flight and the blackbirds would pursue it, to drive it out of their territory. I raised the camera and the blackbird actually landed on the hawk multiple times.

 

“The small bird was so far more maneuverable in flight that all the hawk could do was tolerate it and fly away.”

Landing On A Raptor

Dugan stated via email that the photos “are 100 percent legit” and that his only edits were exposure- and shadow-related since lighting was harsh at certain points because of the bright sunshine.

“I went back to the same spot a few days later hoping lightning would strike twice,” Dugan said. “But the red-tailed hawks were hunting way off in the distance.”

His final remark: “Red-winged blackbirds are fearless.”

—Dugan’s photos can be viewed on his Flickr page

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