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Out in the arid West, miles north of Winnemucca, a small caravan of birdwatchers searches for raptors along a distant ridgeline of basalt and sage. Nearby, a circle of green, created by pivot irrigation, attracts Northern Harriers that hunt over fields and marshes. Then, field trip leader Harry Fuller calls out: “We got a male Harrier ‘sky dancing’ over the pivot on the right up here!” In flight, a Northern Harrier is creating a high-amplitude sine wave, rolling on its back, turning like a corkscrew through the air. It’s part of a courtship display. Many raptors perform sky dances, but perhaps none so amazing as the harriers.
Thanks to Bill Schmoker for this composite photo.
Written by Chris Peterson
This is BirdNote!
Out in the arid West, miles north of Winnemucca, hawks and Harleys* cruise the Great Basin.
[Two Harleys* pass by]
A small caravan of birdwatchers searches for raptors along a distant ridgeline of basalt and sage. Wild horses graze up there, their silhouettes framed by a blue sky.
Nearby, a circle of green, created by pivot irrigation, attracts Northern Harriers that hunt over fields and marshes.
Today, our group’s about to see a rare sight.
Field trip leader Harry Fuller calls it out:
Fuller: “We got a male Harrier ‘sky dancing!’ Male Harrier ‘sky dancing’ over the pivot on the right up here!
In flight, a raptor is creating a high amplitude sine wave, rolling on its back, turning like a corkscrew through the air.
Raptor expert Dick Ashford immediately recognizes this as the sky dance of a male Northern Harrier.
Ashford: “The bird literally is on its back, doing a barrel roll, and it turns its head, just like these divers in the Olympics…
Field trip participant: “So he’s going head over tail or wing over wing?”
Ashford: “Wing over wing…he’s doing a barrel roll. Yah, head over tail would be a good one! Pigeons do that… So this is a really rare sighting… I’ll guarantee you’ll be amongst the small group of people who’ve ever seen it.”
Many raptors perform sky dances. Come see for yourself, at our website, birdnote.org.
All sounds recorded by C. Peterson.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org August 2016/2019 Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# skydance-NOHA-01-2012-08-03 skydance-NOHA-01
* Editor's note: these sounds are not those of Harleys but another type of motorcycle. The distinctive sound that a Harley makes is explained here. And thanks to an extremely attentive listener for this information!
Klamath Bird Observatory; ** Dick Ashford, President of the board of KBO; *Harry Fuller, Towhee Tours: Birding Oregon and California