Monday, January 25, 2010

The Goshawk

Blog by Dayna Gross, Silver Creek Preserve manager

One of my favorite times of the year, winter at Silver Creek inevitably brings with it a rare bird sighting or two.

I am always quick to point out to people that the winters, although quiet, are quite busy with wildlife. It seems that all the critters congregate at Silver Creek for the open water, the shelter, the midge hatches, and the abundant rodents.

This year, we had a barn owl at the visitor center for a few weeks--scaring the hunters first thing in the morning.

Last week I was told a great Silver Creek story--- the remarkable story of a bird that came to Silver Creek during the winter from hundreds of miles away. It appears that this journey may have helped make her one of the longest lived northern goshawks on record.

Jack Kirkley, biology professor at the University of Montana, trapped this goshawk at her nesting site in the Big Hole Valley in southwest Montana in 2003. The tag led him to find that she was originally banded by a Boise State University graduate student in 1991.

After a tip that she was seen around the Silver Creek area in 2004, Jack drove down here and confirmed that it was the same bird.

He has since lost radio contact and believes she is probably dead. Fourteen years and four months is a very long run for a goshawk, though.

When I asked him the normal age range for the bird, he told me that he sees a lot of one and two year olds die from starvation in the winter and most don’t live past five or six.

He thought that she travelled all the way from the Big Hole Valley to Silver Creek in the winter and speculated that this may have been the reason for her living so long—winter site fidelity.

For me, this story really struck a chord. I think of the mountain ranges she would have had to cross just to get here.

And, why here? Of all the places, I wonder why she chose Silver Creek.

It is in my nature to be a little imaginative, so my guess is that she was drawn here, like we all are, because it is such an awesome and remarkable place! (With lots of rodents, of course).

Photo: A goshawk caught at Silver Creek in the 1990s.

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