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Speed and Eyesight of a Pigeon Hawk

Richard M. Bond
2 (March-April)
From Field and Study
Online Text:

Speed and Eyesight of a Pigeon Hawk

In an experiment with a female Eastern Pigeon Hawk (Falco columburius columbarius) trained for falconry the bird came at once to the lure from measured distances up to 900 yards. The lure was a flat, padded bag, approximately 3 by 4 by 1.5 inches in size, with a pair of small-bird wings fastened to each flat surface. It was swung in a circle at the end of a 3 foot thong to call the bird; to human eyes at such distances it was perfectly invisible. The hawk was timed in both directions on a nearly windless day over a course of 1542 feet, and it averaged 29.9 miles per hour. It is well known that a trained bird makes no such effort or speed in coming to the lure as it shows in pursuit of live quarry. Thii hawk seemed, purely by guess, to go about 50 per cent faster in pursuing a live bird.

In comparing it with birds it was attempting to capture, it was observed that the Pigeon Hawk flew faster than quail (Lophortyz californica) or Meadowlarks (sturnella neglecta), and more slowly, at least in a rising flight, than Homed Larks (Otocoris alpestti). It could catch a shrike (Lanious ludoviciunus gambeli) in a long course free from cover; it was keener after shrikes than after any other bird. It could catch, bring down and kill a dove (Strepropelia resoria), or even a strong adult common pigeon if released within about 50 feet, but was easily outdistanced by these birds after they had attained top speed.

The hawk was often harassed by hummingbirds, sometimes six or seven at once. They flew circles around her. Sparrow Hawks (Falco sparverius) usually outmaneuvered the Pigeon Hawk, but few of them seemed to outspeed her. A wild, male Western Pigeon Hawk (Falco columbarius bendirei) attacked her one day, kicked several feathers loose from her, and finally drove her to the ground. His speed was greatly superior to hers.

Richard M. Bond

Oakland, California, December 3, 1935

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