Carthwheeling Gray Hawks. Photo by Eduardo Libby

Cartwheeling Gray Hawks!

A friend of mine had just told me how Bald Eagles during courtship lock their talons and spin in the air, a behavior called cartwheeling. Descending fast, they separate a split second just before hitting the ground. Then, two Gray Hawks did exactly that…

That morning I had been photographing a family of White-fronted Parrots. The two parents, perched on a Cecropia tree, kept a watchful eye on their two youngsters. Whenever a vulture soared nearby, the parents would noisily fly away to take the potential predator’s attention from the two young parrots perched some 20 meters away on another tree. After deeming it safe, the parents returned to the same perch on the Cecropia.


Flying White-fronted Parrot. Photo by Eduardo Libby
One of the White-fronted Parrots flying to the Cecropia tree to guard its young.


All of a sudden, two Black Hawks and two Gray Hawks flew by. This was too much! I saw the parents flying noisily and changing direction constantly until they were out of sight. I returned to the house on the hill where I was staying and sat with my camera on my lap. I heard the call of the Gray Hawks as they circled erratically above. The Hawks were a bit too far away for photography so I just watched them.

As one of the Gray Hawks was flying in the direction of the ocean, the other approached it fast. I took my camera and started focusing on the first Hawk and then I could see the approaching Hawk locking talons with its partner and starting a fast spin while dropping at the same time. The first two frames were out of focus. Then my Nikon Z7 locked focus and kept it for most of the next frames.

What can I say? This was something completely unexpected and I am very happy not only for witnessing this unique courtship but to have captured it on camera. The images are 100% crops (the hawks were over 100 m away) and have just enough detail for sharing them here.

Carthwheeling Gray Hawks. Photo by Eduardo Libby
Gray Hawks lock their talons and cartwheel in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Carthwheeling Gray Hawks. Photo by Eduardo Libby


Carthwheeling Gray Hawks. Photo by Eduardo Libby

Carthwheeling Gray Hawks. Photo by Eduardo Libby

Now that I know other raptors show similar behavior, I will keep an eye out for it. Maybe I will be closer next time. Some researchers think cartwheeling could be sometimes confrontational and is even known to occur between individuals of different species. This is a link I found in New Scientist about cartwheeling.

The New Scientist website references a paper from The Wilson Journal of Ornithology

Have you seen raptors doing this? it would be nice to know which species cartwheel.


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