Making Bird Photo Studios

by Dave Hanks

I sit in a blind on a Texas ranch. It is on a high spot overlooking a swale that has a large, bare tree branch set in the ground to serve as a bird perch – a bird photo studio – so to speak. A beef kidney has been attached as a lure for the hawks of southern Texas.

In our efforts to photograph birds, we have found it very useful to set the stage beforehand and wait for the birds to come to us. If a permanent blind is unavailable, I set up our portable one. It is like a small tent, which is supported by PCV pipes that I can quickly plug together to form a frame. Several perches are created from surrounding vegetative material – or we carry a couple of sticks for that purpose in case suitable items are unavailable in the area. Feeding stations, out of sight from the perches, draw the birds in. Seed eating and sugar loving species come readily to the feed – usually alighting on a perch to survey the scene before dropping down to eat. Creating a water source is even better than food, especially where water is scarce.

But, back to the Texas blind. A HARRIS HAWK comes in to the feast, almost as soon as I get situated. This is a Buteo that lives in the southwestern states. (Buteos are high soaring hawks with broad, rounded wings and broad tails.) He goes right to work on the kidney that is wired just below the perch.

Harris Hawks hunt in cooperation with other Harris Hawks – usually in pairs or trios. This mode of hunting allows them to bring down jackrabbits and other speedy, difficult to catch, prey. They surround the prey and one will flush it and another will make the kill. They will take turns at each role. This species defends its hunting territory as a group, which is unlike most birds where a single male fills that role.

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