A red-winged blackbird takes on a “dogfight” with a hawk

Robin Rowland 
A red-winged blackbird chasing a hawk over Topley B.C. (Robin Rowland)

Driving back to Kitimat from Prince George on May 20, I stopped at the Topley rest area. Not only is Topley a good place to break up the drive, there is a small marsh that if the time and season is correct provides an opportunity for great bird and landscape photography. Moments after I got out of the car, out of my eye I saw something high above, tiny in fact,  a small bird chasing a larger one, probably a raptor of some kind, in a weaving dancing movement, reminiscent of a aerial fighter dogfight (or if you prefer, since today is the 40th anniversary of Star Wars A New Hope, a chase between an X-wing and a Tie fighter.)

No time to get back to the car to get my 500mm, just point at the sky and shoot using my Sony Alpha 7ii with the 70-300mm zoom G lens.

The first shot above is from the full frame from the 7ii, below it is cropped and enlarged and but for this shot I still couldn’t identify the smaller  bird that appeared to be the aggressor and the much bigger raptor,  the bird  that was being pursued. Actually the G zoom performed quite well as I followed as the small bird chased the bigger hawk across the sky.


The two birds wheeled, the smaller one pushing at the larger hawk.

It was only with the second shot that I could identify the unique red and yellow wing patches of a male red-winged blackbird as you can see in the closer cropped image of the blackbird.

The bird books say that a male red-winged blackbird will aggressively defend its nest, although usually against similar size birds such as other males, yellow-headed blackbirds and marsh wrens.

The hawk climbs higher into the sky, with the red-winged blackbird still following, and below a smaller bird (bottom right just left and above the watermark) prudently stays well away from the “dogfight.”

You can see the smaller bird in this close crop.

Not all the shots worked out, the lens did “hunt” as the birds got higher.

But then the hawk circles around, with the red-winged blackbird still riding his tail feathers.

Finally, it seems,the red-winged blackbird had made his point and the hawk heads away in clear skies.

So what kind of hawk was it? I asked my birder friends. Two votes said a possible Swainson’s hawk, although the Hazelton and Bulkley Ranges are at the far north of the Swainson’s hawk’s range. One vote was “I don’t know.” If you have a better idea add a note in the comments.

Close cropped image of the hawk. (Robin Rowland)

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