Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Galapagos Journal Entry #16

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Ponder’s journal, related to the Galapagos hawks individuals on the island where her camp was located.

Camp Hawks

Some of our favorite camp visitors are the local raptors. During the day, we are frequently visited by young Galapagos hawks. There is a large contingent of juveniles that live in the highlands of Santiago, the island where our camp is. The islands undergoing rodent eradication are all satellites of Santiago, which made this island a logical choice for camp.

These tremendously curious birds come in the morning and often hang around camp during the day. Rarely do we see them hunting; they appear to just want to watch what we are doing. The hawks were very curious about objects they had not been exposed to before. An onion, which obviously peels easily, was a very intriguing new puzzle for one hawk, though he did not eat it. We try to be extremely respectful of the endemic Galapagos wildlife, not approaching too closely or interfering in any way with their activities. No one is allowed on the island without escort from the Galapagos National Park and we had a park guard with us at all times. Keeping our distance, however, from these birds is impossible. They perch right in the middle of our camp, moving only to get a better view of what is happening. The aviaries are several hundred yards away – occasionally, they will also appear there, but mostly they just hang in camp. Any future interactions between the hawks and humans will be extremely limited.

The Galapagos hawk is one of the most studied animals in the islands, although there is much we still do not know. What we do know, however, is that they have an amazing social structure. On breeding territories, they exhibit cooperative polyandry; the breeding groups consist of one female and between one and eight males. Sometime after fledging, the juveniles leave the breeding territory and are often found in large groups of non-breeding birds. Life can be tough in such an isolated area as the Galapagos archipelago. There is a finite number of breeding territories to occupy. No one really knows the survival rate of these hawks through the sub-adult period. For more than 12 years, Dr. Patricia Parker (University of Missouri at St. Louis) and her graduate students have studied these birds through genetics and observation, but we still have a lot to learn!

In addition to the diurnal hawks, we have had our share of nocturnal raptor visits, too. Both short-eared owls and barn owls are seen routinely, hunting in the area around camp as well as passing through camp. Watching them hunt is a constant reminder to keep a clean camp!

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