Great Black Hawk (Photo by Eddy Edwards)
Great Black Hawk (Photo by Eddy Edwards)
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Here’s a question for all sharp-eyed bird and feeder watchers: Are you repeatedly seeing the same individuals each day at your feeders? Have those familiar chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, hummingbirds and woodpeckers that show up daily in your yard nested somewhere around the neighborhood? The probable answer is yes. Occasionally individual birds show distinguishing features, such as oddly colored plumage or perhaps a missing or out-of-place feather or two. Unique behavior traits can also serve to identify your regular feeder customers. A particular blue jay mimics the high-pitched whistled calls of Broad-winged Hawks when he approached my feeders. Broad-wings nest nearby each year, affording the jay opportunities to learn and copy their calls. The jay’s vocal renditions convince some hawk-fearing songbirds to vacate the premises.

From late-August into October, answering my leading question will get trickier. Fall migration season has begun, sending troupes of far-flung birds across the region. We’ll soon see worn, faded feathers on molting adults and fledged juveniles with strained physical resemblances to their parents.

This lively flow of migrants can produce speculation about their exact geographic origins and eventual destinations. In some cases, however, no crystal ball is needed to resolve such mysteries. For six years, I’ve shared ongoing contact with a leg-banded Canadian gull in Rockland. Banded as an adult at Ile Deslauriers near Montreal in April 2012, Gull F2Z is a male Ring-billed Gull who’s now at least 9 years old. He’s a member in good standing at a 45,000-pair nesting colony, where he was sighted once again last spring. By late summer I can anticipate his post-breeding arrival in Rockland. This year’s date was August 3 when I noticed a solitary, medium-sized gull atop the flagpole at Hannaford’s parking lot. Pulling up closer, I focused my binoculars on the blue plastic band on his right leg: F2Z was back indeed! I’ve have repeated connection with the Montreal biologist that monitors this bird’s wandering ways through an international gull study.

Several of my birding friends have experienced long-odds sightings with sojourning birds. In the fall, my friend Mark would visit a famous migration hotspot on Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia. One day an odd-looking raptor with long pointed wings and a banded brown tail entered Mark’s view. Was it a young peregrine or perhaps a Northern Harrier? No, the wing and body shape were wrong for that. An immature Mississippi Kite had just sailed past — a raptor of the southern US that is relatively rare in New England or Canada. Returning home to Maine four days later, Mark resumed his raptor observations from the tip of Harpswell. His “best bird” that day was an immature Mississippi Kite lazily drifting southward. Precisely the same bird? You be the judge.

Recently my buddy Eddy had an ironic encounter with an extreme avian rarity in Biddeford: an immature Great Black Hawk. This represented only the second North American record for this Central/South American species. The first sighting had occurred at South Padre Island in Texas last May. Although Eddy was birding at South Padre that particular day, he missed on seeing the bird by the distance of a mere half-block away!

Now fast-forward to August 9, 2018. Following his recent move to Maine, Eddy learned of the incredible Great Black Hawk sighting in Biddeford. He joined throngs of other birders from several states there to seek out the bird. Zing! The hawk perched cooperatively near a small pond and in various dooryards as it hunted out small birds and got harassed by scolding robins. The odds of this mega-rarity being the former Texas hawk are reasonably good. How about the longer odds of Eddy and the vagrant hawk’s delayed rendezvous in coastal Maine?