A group of fourth-graders visiting a Southern California promontory famous for whale sightings did not see any cetaceans, but were witness to a dramatic and unforgettable unforgettable dogfight between two ravens and a pair of red-tailed hawks.
The spectacle played out late last week over a span of about 15 minutes, directly in front of the Point Vicente Interpretive Center on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Alisa Schulman-Janiger, who captured the event in stunning images, said the hawks were trying to protect their nest and three babies.
“The chicks are definitely fine,” said the researcher, who directs the ACS-LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project. “Every time the ravens got anywhere near the nest one of the hawks would go and escort the ravens away.”
Ravens are famously clever and are known to team up to prey on nestlings of other birds (click here to view a video showing some of their antics). The ravens and the hawks at Point Vicente have clashed before, Schulman-Janiger said, but what was unusual this time was the physical contact.
“We often see this harrassment and protective behavior–but rarely any actual contact,” she said. “The contact is so brief, they are moving so fast, and they often sweep below our view (I needed to stand at the cliff’s edge, in front of our census site).
“That is why it is very difficult to catch on film: This is my first successful encounter, after watching this interaction for many years. To our knowledge, the ravens have never harmed any chicks.”
Schulman-Janiger posted seven photos on her Facebook page with this description: “Fight in the skies! Hawk defends its nest and three fledglings from two persistent harassing ravens at our gray whale census at Pt. Vicente yesterday!
“… They did this aerial combat right in front of a visiting class of fourth grade students, swooping right down in front of them. MUCH more exciting for them than the average whale sighting!”
The gray whale migration is winding down locally, but visitors to the interpretive center will have a good chance to see much larger blue whales over the next several months.