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Follow a bird’s gaze to find overhead raptors

ON THE LOOKOUT: Mourning Doves tilt their heads skyward in search of a potential predator. Art by David Sibley

Predatory birds like hawks are always scarce — much less numerous than their prey species — and they often move through an area quickly and stealthily. To us, spotting a raptor is fun, but to birds like doves and sparrows, it is a matter of life or death. They will almost always find a bird of prey before we do, so if we can learn to recognize the signs that they’ve spotted one, it can help us see more raptors.

Anyone who has a bird feeder will learn the sounds of a raptor attack: the bustling “conversation” of birds at the feeder suddenly switches to a flurry of wings and a few urgent-sounding calls from chickadees and finches, then silence. It’s time to scan for an accipiter. More distant hawks can be revealed by the glances of birds such as doves or waterfowl.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), and guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

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