Ducks likely laughing at hungry interloper | 02/04/2007 | Ducks likely laughing at hungry interloper

Gary Bogue responds to a reader whose husband saw a hawk in the water with some ducks.

Dear Delta:

I think the hawk was diving down to grab itself a duck dinner … and missed. KER-SPLASH!

Could your husband tell if the ducks were laughing?

When we lived in Richland, Washington, Rusty, our female Harris’s hawk, discovered ducks. We rented a place just on the edge of the Yakima river floodplain. We would often walk the area down to the river there.

Where you have river, you get ducks. Now, ducks are no easy prey. They tend to move off once they notice the approach of humans. They are also used to falcons; they will stay firmly down on the water, and the falcons will not engage them there, preferring to knock the daylights out of ducks in flight. The other large hawk species in the area, the red-tailed hawk, might take a duck opportunistically, but they don’t generally even take note of ducks as prey. They are watching for rodents and lagomorphs by preference.

Rusty sized up the duck situation quickly on one of our walks. A group of ducks had paddled into a shallow branch of the river, where the water was no deeper than a foot. Rusty flew out over them, did a wingover, and dove down on a duck, slamming it where it had no way to dive out of reach or drag her under. She repeated that performance maybe twice more on following days, but then the duck grapevine seemed to have gotten the word out… don’t get stuck in shallow water over there! The ducks, on sighting Rusty approaching a perch near the river, would make a general exodus to deeper parts of the river.

Rusty doesn’t catch a duck everytime she makes a try for one. It’s probably the case that she has the usual raptor catch rate: out of twenty tries at something, she catches something once. So, the ducks can laugh themselves silly — nineteen times out of twenty.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.