When Ambush Turns to Active Pursuit: Brown Goshawk Vs. Australian Raven

The Brown Goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus) is one of Australia’s most acrobatic aerial hunters. They are within the Accipiter genus of raptors (birds of prey) that is the global Goshawk genus. Ever Accipiter is known to utilise cover and perches to catch their prey unaware. The Brown Goshawk in particular is known to weave through dense forest and capture and kill unsuspecting birds before they can move a wing!

Brown Goshawk - Accipiter fasciatus Copyright Chad Beranek

Brown Goshawk – Accipiter fasciatus (Copyright Chad Beranek)

However, on rare occasions the hunt go wrong, and something unexpected happens. In these rare instances, a Goshawk can either make the decision to commit to the hunt, or pull out to conserve energy. In this short article I will describe one of these instances: A Brown Goshawk in a long distance aerial pursuit on an Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides).

I was on Broughton Island, which is not far from Newcastle on the east coast of Australia, where I observed lots of commotion in the bird world. Seagulls squawked and took flight in a large white undulating mass, while I saw two ravens joining the mass. The ravens seemed particularly frantic compared to the seagulls. And that’s when I spotted a fast dark shadow tailing them that darted from the other side of the bay…

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“Initially the Goshawk pursued the Raven in a westerly direction, at first observing the Raven from behind, then gathering speed and making contact with it in what appeared to be a beak-first attack. The Raven changed angle after the first observed attack, and proceeded to dive. The Goshawk appeared easily faster than the Raven in diving flight, and again made aggressive contact using its beak.” From Beranek (2017)

The hunt

The hunt

The Raven once again changed direction, this time angling north-west and slightly upwards. The Goshawk circled to adjust its position and once again pursued the Raven, this time coming from below. The Goshawk attempted to attack the Raven but missed. The Raven appeared to flap its wings frantically as the Goshawk approached. After this attack, the Goshawk let the Raven gain a lead before closing the distance for another attack. At this stage, the interaction was proceeding further out in the bay and it was impossible to obtain distinct images with a camera. Further observations were made with binoculars. On the sixth and final attack, as the Goshawk approached the Raven, the former outstretched its talons and grasped the Raven in mid air. The Raven did not appear to be struggling to break free and looked limp; presumably it was either dead or exhausted.” From Beranek (2017)

These kinds of long distance aerial and acrobatic pursuits are rare in nature for Goshawks, and represent less than 3% of hunting observations. A variety of factors can lead to such behaviour, such as prey availability and the condition of habitat. To read more into the science side of these kinds of hunts visit either one the links below:

Researchgate link

Australian Field Ornithology Link

Chad T. Beranek (2017) A successful long-distance aerial pursuit of an Australian Raven Corvus coronoides by a Brown Goshawk Accipiter fasciatus. Australian Field Ornithology 34, 87-90.

 

 

Birds of Broughton Island

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Broughton Island, it is a relatively small island (a touch over 100 hectares) a part of Myall Lakes National Park, off the east coast of Australia. This small island has retained some interesting natural heritage, with having the second largest population of Green and Golden Bell Frogs in the world and also one of the few places to find the critically endangered Storm Petrel. Broughton Island also boasts nesting populations of Wedged-Tailed Shearwaters (also known as ‘Mutton Birds’), and also Fairy Penguins which are occurring on the island close to the northern limit their distribution. Broughton Island provides good coastal habitat and heathland habitat which is used by a considerably large variety of different bird species. The island attracts both sea birds, raptors and even land birds which have retained their permanent positions. This makes it a popular spot for bird enthusiasts where they run annual Broughton Island ‘twitching’ events to count how many bird species are present and see if they can spot any new ones. While I stayed at Broughton conducting bell frog surveys I went to do some twitching in my spare time and this is what I found:

 

1. The first bird to great me on the island is an easy guess considering this is a coastal island: the Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae) which most people just refer to as the ‘Sea Gull’. They were in a large noisy colony where the fishers huts reside.

Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)

Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)

 

2. The second bird I quickly realised were in abundance on this island were the Welcome Swallows (Hirundo neoxena). There were dive bombing insects and speeding around the main cabins, occasionally taking a pit stop on a twig or branch.

Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena)

 

3. The next bird I became aware of was the Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae), which were cheekily and quietly jumping and rummaging around the grass and seaweed, presumably looking for invertebrate snacks.

Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae)

Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae)

4. After a heading out to one of the bell frog sites, many small birds were sighted in the Broughton Island heathland. One of them I failed to get a photo of which was the Silver Eyes (Zosterops lateralis) but the other common heathland bird was the Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis), which occasionally perched in the open to let out alarm calls as we approached their territory.

Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis)

A Male Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis)

5. Before leaving the heathlands we keep sighted small ground dwelling birds scuttling in the bushes before we got close. My 300 mm lens proved them to be Brown Quails (Coturnix ypsilophora).

A family group of Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)

A family group of Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)

6. When arriving to the beach, the next bird sighted was darting in and out of the seaweed clumps with fast legs. They turned out to be Red Capped Plovers (Charadrius ruficapillus), which are are common occurrence on the coasts of Australia.

Red Capped Plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)

Red Capped Plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)

 

7. Another bird sighted darting amongst the seaweed (albeit somewhat slower and plumper than the Red Capped Plovers) was the  Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres), who took flight if approached to closely and directly.

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

 

8. After patrolling making it to the rocky coastal areas of Broughton I stumbled upon a bird which frightened me probably as equally as I frightened it. This dark bird make a shreeking call and darted to a rock almost submerged by the surf. This bird turned out to be a Sooty Oyster Catcher (Haematopus fuliginosus), which were occasionally seen in pairs most likely nesting in the rocky areas of the coast of Broughton Island. https://www.flickr.com/photos/126862220@N06/15905334509/   9. I heard small tweets and chirps within a stand of Knobby Club Rush, and manged to shoot off a few photos. The specific chirps and tweets we heard along with the photo confirmed it as a Golden-Headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis).

Golden-Headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis)

Golden-Headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis)

 

The next few species of birds we witnessed were soaring high above where I managed to capture some of them with the long lens. 10. This comorant flying over head is most likely to be the Great Comorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Many were seen later on drying their wings on small rock platforms further out in the surf.

10.Great Comorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

The Great Comorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

 

11. The next bird saw flying overhead was the Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans) which was the most common raptor we saw during this trip. One of them were even sighted harassing the gull colony which sent all the adults in the air with attempts to try and drive off the raptor. It looked like the harrier had run off with on of the gull chicks!

Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)

Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)

 

12. Another impressive raptor was sighted gliding overhead which turned out to be a juvenile White Bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), which was identified using the specific colour arrangements of the feathers as seen from below.

Juvenile White-Bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)

 

 

There were other birds sighted which I didn’t manage to get decent photos of which include  two other raptors: an Osprey (Pandion haliaeetus), and a Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), plus some extra additions sighted in the heathland including White-Cheeked Honey Eaters (Phylidonyris nigra). In total (including the birds that I didn’t manage to get photos of), I saw 17 birds which isn’t bad for 3 days of twitching. If I kept that ratio of birds to days up I could get all species of birds in Australia within the year!