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Dec 30, 2018, 07:59 PM
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landru's Avatar
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Taken down by hawks

I suspect that most of us who fly thermal gliders have had airborne encounters with various birds. I certainly have.

My experience is that eagles and ospreys will happily share a thermal. Hawks have been a different matter. On the odd occasion when I've been close-ish to the ground in their territory, one of their membership has made their displeasure evident with a pass or two, talons outstretched. In the past, I thought of such aggression as more of a warning that an assault with intent. I took only mild evasive action and the bird always lost interest.

Today, my opinion on the matter changed.

A pair of small hawks, working in tandem, took down my 1.5m electric glider. They harried me across a good patch of sky, taking passes by turns, for what seemed liked several minutes. By the time I realized the threat was existential, it was too late. A single, clean strike sheered off one of the v-tails of the glider. I watched as the model fell to ground from a height of about 100m. The pair of birds circled, watching too, as I imagined. Interestingly, they did not pursue the glider to the ground. Presumably, the encounter was for them a matter of territoriality not predation.

As it turned out, the glider was not badly damaged. Regardless, seeing the hawks hunt as a pair was an experience I don't regret.

Having all the admiration of birds of an avid birdwatcher, but none of the knowledge, I consulted Peterson's guide when I got home. My assumption had been that the pair were red-tailed hawks, common around here. However, Peterson lists those hawks as appearing 'chunky' from below, with a wingspan of 110cm or more. The assailants in my case didn't appear chunky at all. I'd say they had a wingspan of about half of my 1.5m glider wing. Possibly less. Unfortunately, the lighting conditions gave me only a silhouette view of them. Markings were impossible to make out.

Have you been downed by birds, too? If you're a birder, what do you make of these two hawks?
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Dec 30, 2018, 09:23 PM
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Gratter's Avatar
I have not been downed but I did end up with talon marks in my fiberglassed balsa canopy. I think I was just to close to the hawk.
Dec 30, 2018, 10:37 PM
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Could they have been Kestrels A.K.A Chicken Hawks? ?
Dec 30, 2018, 10:47 PM
May the Wind Always be Good
Got into it with a Windsong and a chicken hawk a few years back ..they made a attack pass and when came in for landing one side of Elevator was missing .Elevator was found the next week end with the marks of an Attack .Most of the time they just fly along with you ..
Dec 31, 2018, 12:02 AM
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Back in the 70's. the cover of Soaring Magazine featured a picture of a Hawk with it's talons in the top of a slope model flown by Dave Katagiri up in Washington. They are territorial in the Spring.

Dec 31, 2018, 12:21 AM
Gots me a good used Hobie Hawk
Steve Corbin's Avatar
Way back in '97 I went with a friend to a SoCal flying site called "The Rock"---An abandoned rock quarry that has a 125' high purely vertical face cliff about a couple hundred yards long that faces the prevailing SW winds.

I brought a GP Spirit 2M glider along so if it didn't look good for hang gliding we'd have something aeronautical to do.

We were just too lazy to set up the Hg's so we added about a pound of tire weights to the Spirit and proceeded to have some fun in the 25+ mph winds.

We hadn't flown there for quite some time and had forgotten about the Very Territorial Hawk that owned this site. He/She was very adamant that the airspace belonged to Hawk and Hawk alone, one of my favorite Hg's had several small tears in the sail on both wingtips as testimony to this fact.

We did get about 20 minutes of hassle free sloping in before The Bird showed up. Since Bird had already made it clear many times before that we were trespassers He/She wasted no time making empty threats and came streaking down with wings swept and hit the Spirit on a wingtip, rolling the glider inverted and also skewing the wing a few degrees off square with the fuselage and taking out a few square inches of Translucent green Monokote and a couple wing ribs.

The damaged and skewed wing resulted in my needing to use almost full left rudder just to maintain a heading. I got the Spirit back overhead and was diving down to land when Bird came around for the kill, this time hitting the glider just a few inches to the right of center and removing even more lifting surface from the right wing, yawing the Spirit to a straight downwind course into a very vicious rotor zone and some good sized rocks, but I lucked out once again and hit the only soft bush on that part of the ridge.

I've heard it said that God looks out for drunks and fools and glider pilots. My making it to the ripe old age of 66 would indicate that the saying has some truth in it.
Dec 31, 2018, 01:52 PM
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Hawks in Vancouver, BC

There are about 11 different species of hawks that can be found in the Vancouver area so there is quite a list to pick from. My guess would be Coopers Hawks but only a guess. Anyhow they did their hawk thing pretty good!
Dec 31, 2018, 04:04 PM
who has rabbit ears down
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I had a crow knock me in the head bacxk in about '88!
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Dec 31, 2018, 05:45 PM
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I had some claw marks on a PP Genesis flying wing from a hawk a number of years ago. This year I spent some time at Cumberland with an eagle. The eagle could not keep up with my Freestyler 5 in a dive and I could out climb the eagle. It was a lot of fun but I kept watch so I could keep ahead of it.
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Dec 31, 2018, 06:08 PM
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landru's Avatar
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Thanks for all the good suggestions, insights, and stories. I find it comforting that the humans are not the only creatures on the planet with intelligence, personality, and an agenda.

Another day, another attack
This time the culprit was a single bird, perhaps a touch smaller than yesterday, but with the slender pointed wingtips typical of a falcon. (Yesterday's birds had broader wingtips.) As suggested above, I think that could make today's bird a Kestral. And looking in my bird book, the suggestion of Cooper's Hawk fits for the pair yesterday. Thank you for mentioning those.

This time I didn't mess around. As soon as the bird approached, I dove down and away full speed. It gave chase at equal speed. After yesterday's attack, I planned to go to ground in the event of another incident. The silliness of that idea soon became apparent. The moment I slowed down, the bird was on my tail, preparing to strike from the ideal position, above and behind. Instead, out of desperation, I powered up and away into the wind. A few hundred meters was enough to end the chase. Without a motor in the nose, the glider would likely have taken a hit again. Lesson learned.

Why here and now?
I've flown in this particular urban park (and some others within a few kilometers) dozens of times over the past year and a half. In none have I experienced a bird attack before. In fact, apart from one curious juvenile seagull, no bird took any notice of my gliders. In other less urban locations, it's been a different story, but not in those parks.

One factor may be that the 'attack park' seems to lay under an aerial route well traveled by birds of prey: a bird commuting route, perhaps, that connects the river and flat farmland in the south to wherever it is they go to the north (the seaside, the mountains?). Other parks nearby see much less bird traffic.
Jan 07, 2019, 12:39 PM
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I reached out to the local birding community. One member confirmed likelihood of Cooper's Hawk for the first incident, and suggested Merlin for the second (more common than Kestrals in these parts).

Some great photos
Last edited by landru; Jan 07, 2019 at 12:46 PM.
Jan 08, 2019, 08:07 AM
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Crashbound's Avatar
Sorry about the glider and certainly is a nuisance when trying to fly. But it is a neat story!
Kestrals are small. Or at least the ones we have around here. Red tail hawks are as described, pretty "chunky" looking from below and likely larger than you described. First thing I thought was Coopers. But it seems you pretty much have it pegged. Considering it was two working together, I'd guess a mating pair who had established their territory.

The few Redtails that have been in the area when I've been flying have paid no attention to my planes. Neither do Turkey Vultures. Both are very good thermal flyers and if any show up circling I will immediately head toward them. The vultures have no problem sharing thermals. If you get too close though, they usually just glide off to less crowded airspace.
Jan 08, 2019, 01:41 PM
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landru's Avatar
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That's an interesting observation about the mating pair. I didn't realize that hawks remained paired throughout the year. Is it usual for them to hunt together?

The recent incidents have reignited my interest in bird-watching.

Happily the glider was not badly damaged. The severed tail, still attached by its pushrods, twirled around slowing the descent. And the field, sopping wet from all our rains, made for a soft landing. The model was back in flying order the next day.
Jan 08, 2019, 02:22 PM
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Originally Posted by landru

Is it usual for them to hunt together?

Well, some mate for life. Regardless, when paired up I suspect either would defend their territory. If they happened to be together at the time they'd likely both attack an "intruder" such as your glider. I kinda doubt they were looking at your glider as prey, more likely just attacking to drive it out of their territory but I'm no hawk expert.
Jan 08, 2019, 02:35 PM
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landru's Avatar
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Makes sense.

It was so fascinating to watch, I almost want them to try it again. Almost.

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