Tiny Hawk (Accipiter
Observations from the Sirena Field Station, Corcovado N. P.
by David L. Ross, Jr.
It is the peak of the dry
season during an unseasonably dry El Nino year. A wilting forest bleeds ochre
tones from the canopy on another hot cloudless day. Song fades quickly with
the rising sun, but cicada sound is surprising light. A Clay-colored Robin
carols as its mate brings a meal to a nest two meters high in a secondary
growth border. A Gray-capped Flycatcher alights on a thorn bush on the edge
of the field station clearing, utters a few un-musical sounds through a beak-full
of victims, and then enters its bulky enclosed nest. A Violaceous Trogon calls
half-heartedly from beyond cecropia as vultures circle in black against a
tropical blue sky. But as placid water is rippled by a stone, the morning
lull is excited by a small struggling form. The flycatchers dart for cover
as a robin calls in alarm while hurtling to further perch.
A weak high pitched piping draws eyes to this feathered
stone its wings and heart pounding as it drags a smaller almost lifeless form
through still air. With the long-term researchers hut roof and clearing traversed
in a labored sagging flight, an extra effort brings the two to a 3m high perch--one
uncomfortably close to the robin’s nest. Through Zeiss a scene fit for
Fuertes, the predator with prey, talons clenching pulse-less flesh, piercing
scarlet eyes glaring back and then nervously upward. Perhaps this fierce hunter
need fear a similar fate. It is a stout-bodied raptor, long-legged (an attribute
for bird catching).
With upper parts a slate gray, combined with a barred
tail and distinct fine blackish barring on the breast, it shouts Barred Forest-Falcon,
but it is not. The throat is white, its head proportionately large, and those
blazing red eyes! It's too small (tiny), yes Tiny Hawk! (Accipiter superciliosus)
adult male, at close range.
Its dull looking catch a Piratic Flycatcher still
warm. A mere 26g for this 75g hawk (Stiles and Skutch 1989).
From this same perch he plucked the flycatcher, working the nape and back
a bit then biting through the lower mandible to feed on the head. Next the
tail feathers would float downward, some more body feathers and finally those
of the wings.
Transformed into a tiny roaster in a span of about
20 minutes the minute black feet of the flycatcher dangled from its naked
legs as the whole hung awkwardly pinched between talon and perch. The accipiter
glanced back and upward, before flying easily with its lightened catch to
a higher perch, beyond view, lens and strobe.