Foam Lake Birding No. 28

No. 28
This year we will be spending the month of December in California with our oldest daughter and her family. To wit, I have spent quite some time trying to determine how I would treat these articles during this time. I came to the decision to write about birds that are common in southern California, but not exclusively so. So, for this week’s column and the next three, I hope you enjoy the articles, even though the birds discussed are not found locally around Foam Lake. However, I will try to include some material that is pertinent and of interest to Foam Lake area birders.
To date I have not written about hawks, local or otherwise, simply because I do not have any good pictures – yet. Now, being in California, I do have some good pictures of “local” hawks that I can write about. This week’s photo was a long distance shot taken in 2007, at the Batiquitos Lagoon, located on the outskirts of the city of Carlsbad. On our walks along the lagoon, we always passed right underneath the grove of trees where they nested. The birds did not seem to mind.
The quite large and varied hawk group is broken down into a series of smaller groups (families) that share common characteristics not shared by the larger group as a whole. Listed alphabetically, the different families are: Accipiters (bird hawks), Buteos (buzzard hawks), Eagles, Falcons, Harriers and Kites. My intention is to write in detail about each family when I feature a specific bird from that particular family.
Of the six families listed, only the kites are not represented in Foam Lake. So, it seems somewhat ironic that of all families, I will be writing about the group that is not represented in the Foam Lake area – the kites.
Kites are the most buoyant and graceful fliers of all hawks. With gentle wing motions, they appear to float effortlessly for hours on end. Their method of hunting is to find a desirable site and then fly into a headwind of sufficient speed to allow them to “hang” in the air on largely motionless wings. Any wing beats are minimal with just enough motion to maintain position above the ground. One gets the impression that the suspended bird is tethered to the ground. This style of flying is called “kiting”. When prey is spotted the kite dives down and catches it.
Most people believe that the birds are named after those contraptions (kites) that children like to fly in parks and school grounds on windy days. ‘What really happened is that when man-made “kites’ were introduced to the Europeans by the Chinese, they reminded the Europeans of a familiar bird, the kite, in flight. The man-made flying objects, (“kites”), were named after the bird, and not the other way around.
Today’s featured bird is the crow-sized White Tailed Kite (formerly the Black Shouldered Kite). When perched it appears as a white bird with black wings and large black eyes. When flying it looks a lot like a seagull. Males and females are alike. Whether perched or flying, when viewed through binoculars, it is a beautiful and graceful bird.