Nature Notes: The Mob in the Baylands

by Brittany Sabol
August 2013

Working in a nature preserve, EV staff get to experience some fascinating events that would never happen in an office complex.

Case in point: recently we heard a commotion going on just off the EcoCenter front deck. We went outside to discover
a Red-tailed Hawk had caught a ground squirrel and landed on the old post in the marsh near the deck.

The commotion we heard was coming from little birds who were upset that the hawk had chosen that spot to enjoy lunch. It was a great display of a behavior called mobbing.

Most predators of birds, whether they are larger birds, mammals, or snakes, require the element of surprise to actually catch a bird.

Mobbing behavior happens when prey birds spot a predator. The purpose of mobbing is to take away the element of surprise and to harass the predator until it leaves the area. Three Northern Mockingbirds were the key mobbers of the Red-tailed Hawk. They squawked loudly and swooped all around the hawk, occasionally hitting its back with surprising force.

On this day, the mobbing did not disturb the hawk, presumably because it already had caught its prey. The whole display went on for a good half hour. It finally came to an end when the Red-tailed Hawk took the last bit of its lunch and flew off - with three squawking Mockingbirds right on its tail making sure it didn't come back.