Rare Bird Alert: GREAT BLACK HAWK [UPDATE: 11/29/18]

[UPDATE Nov. 29, 2018] This just keeps getting wilder. The Great Black Hawk, not seen since Oct. 30, was refound this morning in Deering Oaks Park in Portland. Unlike last month’s appearance which was seen by just a single birder, dozens have enjoyed the bird today, and it continues as of 4pm.

The fact that this incredible bird has survived so long so far away from its native range is simply astounding. How many Great Black Hawks have ever seen snow? Not many, but this one has. Many birders wondered what this bird was eating in Maine — its typical diet includes reptiles, crabs, fish, rodents, and eggs, which are hard to come by in a Maine winter — but it was seen snacking on a Gray Squirrel this morning in Deering Oaks. Overall, the bird appears healthy.

We hope that the bird continues to be seen and enjoyed in Portland. It was being seen today in the Norway spruce trees on the western side of the park, between the pond and King Middle School. If you are going to visit, please be respectful of the bird and the other birders by keeping a safe distance — at least 200 feet.

Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist Doug Hitchcox points out the Great Black Hawk to a student from King Middle School.
Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist Doug Hitchcox points out the Great Black Hawk to a student from King Middle School.

 

The Great Black Hawk in Deering Oaks Park on Nov. 29 2018
The Great Black Hawk in Deering Oaks Park on Nov. 29 2018

[UPDATE Oct. 30, 2018] In an incredible update to an already incredible story, the same Great Black Hawk that was last seen in Biddeford on August 9 was seen again on the afternoon of October 29 in Portland. Bill Bunn was birding the Eastern Promenade when he spotted the hawk moving along the trees on the hillside. Here is a link to his eBird checklist with photos of the hawk. Birders are scouring the Eastern Prom this morning, but no luck so far. Keep an eye on the Maine Birds listserv for updates.

The reemergence of this bird after more than 80 days absence is simply amazing. We have no way of knowing where its been all this time, or where it’ll head to next. If you’re out and about in Southern Maine today, keep your eyes open!

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If you’ve never heard of a Great Black Hawk, you are probably not alone. Don’t bother grabbing your Sibley guide, as this bird isn’t in there. It really wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a possibility in Maine (let alone the U.S.)…so when one was photographed in Biddeford on August 6, the bird world was shocked.

Here’s some background: On the morning of 6 August 2018, Christine O’Leary Murphy took a photo of a weird looking hawk along Maddox Pond Road in Biddeford. That photo made its way through the internet via Instagram and eventually to a Facebook group called What’s this Bird?, where it was properly identified and went as viral as a rare bird can go. An interesting debate about the legitimacy of the photos broke out; any rare bird sighting should be met with some skepticism, but this unprecedented record almost brought out conspiracy theorists.

Earlier this spring, a Great Black Hawk was photographed at South Padre Island, TX, and is potentially the first record of this species in the U.S. (ABA Area for the bird nerds), pending acceptance by the rare bird committees. That could make this Maine appearance only the second U.S. record! (It should be noted there is a historical record from Florida that was ultimately rejected because of unknown provenance.) For more about Great Black Hawks, the species account at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Neotropic Birds is fantastic.

Word of the sighting finally got out on Tuesday — but no one was able to find the bird. On Wednesday morning, nearly a dozen birders (including me) were on the scene…and again had no luck. After work, I decided to take a drive back to look, but was doubtful of my prospects. I even tweeted about the morning’s failure:


As luck would have it, after an hour of looking, I managed to track down the bird! The word was spread — and fortunately a group of birders were able to see the bird before it went to roost around 7:45 pm.

Here are a few notes I posted on the Maine-birds Listserv that should help those looking for this bird:

Location:
The bird was first seen roosting in a short pine on the west side of the unnamed pond along the north side of Lily Pond Road. It moved twice, making short flights into a private yard along Lily Pond Road where they homeowners were gracious enough to let us view the bird. Keep in mind that many of the homes in this area are rented to vacationers so access may be hard to get in most yards. Around 7:44PM the bird flew west but looped back to the group of trees between Lily Pond Road and Elizabeth Road where it apparently went to roost.

Parking:
Most of the parking in this area requires a permit from the town to be in the spots from 8AM to 5PM. (We didn’t see any parking police come by until around 10AM today.) I believe some of the side roads off Fortunes Rocks Road allow parking on one side of the street but I hope everyone can be smart about where they leave their vehicles. Also fyi: the City of Biddeford’s Code of Ordinances, § 42-64(a)(11) states that parking in a permit only zone is a $35 fine. However, § 42-66(7) indicates a $50 fine and that illegally parked vehicles will be towed at the owner’s expense. So park at your own risk.
Behavior:
Throughout this evening’s observation the bird was fairly calm (given the large size and noise from the group watching) and did a lot of preening and roosting (no foraging). The bird was almost always in the middle half of the trees it perched in, even when changing perches it stayed low in the trees and never soared. My best advice for finding it is to listen for the agitated American Robins – they were scolding the hawk the entire time we had it in view and were a lot easier to detect. Even the local hummingbirds were taking turns pestering the hawk. Ian and I heard robins scolding this morning from a willow near the south side of Lily Pond but were never able to see the source of their unrest.
Update (9 Aug 2018 @ 2:30PM):
There have been a lot of questions about the likelihood that this is the same birds as was seen at South Padre Island this spring. There was originally a lot of skepticism and thought that “we’ll never know” but thanks to some high resolution photos of the underwing patterns of these birds, it looks pretty likely that they are the same! Tom Johnson compiled the photos below:
Photos from Macaulay Library/ eBird – Maine photo by Francis Morello, Texas photo by Alex Lamoreaux.
Good birding!