Birds of prey are some of the most effective hunters in the world, ranging from nimble falcons to powerful eagles. One of the most fascinating is the Harris Hawk, the only raptor known to hunt in packs. Recognisable by their chestnut plumage and long yellow tales, Harris hawk are found in southwestern America, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Britain.
The birds have been recorded hunting in groups to bring down prey such as jackrabbits and wild turkeys. This is believed to be an adapation to a lack of food in a desert climate. Harris hawk have different methods of hunting together. First, a group will participate in ‘backstanding’ which involves two or three hawks standing on top of each other. The hawk on top gains a better vantage point and is able to scout the area.
When prey is found the pack splits up into roles that suit individual strengths. A single hawk leads the chase while others follow in case the prey tries to escape. If one hawk misses another dives in from another angle.
If the target hides in a bush then certain hawks will act as ‘flushers.’ They drop to the ground and peck through the undergrowth, trying to frighten the prey into the open. Another hunting technique is called ‘blocking.’ In the case of hunting a mouse, a hawk will stick its feet down a hole to guard the exit.
After the kill is made, Harris hawk share their food with each other. This makes them the second most successful pack hunters in the world after African wild dogs.
The hawk’s intelligence makes it an ideal bird to use during falconry. They are the easiest to train and the most social. Due to their ability to work closely with their trainer, Harris hawk are effective on both bird and mammalian prey. They are cunning and adaptable partners, willing to tackle game larger than themselves.