The wonders of God’s creation will never
cease to amaze me. On three different occasions in two geographically distinct
areas I have witnessed Red-winged Blackbirds riding on the backs of hawks. You
have likely seen the phenomenon where smaller blackbirds are seen harassing larger
hawks. Red-winged Blackbirds can be quite territorial and will work to protect
their nests. Hawks, being carnivorous, are not opposed to eating smaller birds
and particularly, young ones in the nest. The blackbirds will chase hawks away
from their nesting area by flying at the large bird from above, thus avoiding
the lethal talons and beak. They will peck at the hawk and generally cause
enough disturbance to chase away the large predator.

A few of the little blackbirds get quite
bold. They will actually land on the back of the large hawk and peck at his
neck while riding at a position just in front of the hawk’s wings. It is the equivalent
of an avian rodeo. The hawk will begin to fly more erratically in hopes of
shaking the tiny bird off of her back but the blackbird can hang on for quite a
while. It is also slightly reminiscent of scenes in the movie Avatar, where the residents of Pandora manage to ride on the backs of large winged beasts.

How did this behaviour develop? Did one
little bird do this by accident and then realize he could impress his friends? “Watch
this fellas! I’m gonna ride a killer!” Did the behaviour get passed around
blackbird circles when they all went to their wintering grounds in California?

Watch for this behaviour the next time you
are out in a marshy area with lots of blackbirds and hawks. You might just be
rewarded by a glimpse of this comical looking performance.

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