A visitor to the DeSoto and Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuges in Iowa and Nebraska recently snapped an incredible photograph, which was released today by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
But if the photograph seems too good to be true, that’s because it probably is, experts say.
“I don’t believe that it’s a bird taking a ride—I think it was just a well-timed shot,” says refuge manager Tom Cox.
Cox said the picture most likely captures a perfect moment during a fight between a blackbird and a hawk—and that blackbirds attacking and harassing hawks is actually quite common.
“In fact we probably see that occurrence of blackbirds dive-bombing red-tailed hawks about every day we’re in the field,” he says.
It also happens in other bird species: Crows have also been documented attacking eagles, as seen in these amazing photographs published in July.
Get Off My Lawn
So why harass and attack a dangerous predator?
Usually “to identify and harass a predator away from a territory,” Brian K. Schmidt, a museum specialist in at Division of Birds at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, says by email.
The blackbirds aren’t motivated by a particular need to protect eggs or young—they’re just naturally territorial, Cox adds. (Also see “Why Birds Attacked the Peace Doves in Rome.”)
“It’s like the little brother pestering the big brother in the sky,” he says.
“The blackbirds will fly around them and dive-bomb at them, and the hawks try to avoid them or even sometimes swipe at them. But generally the blackbirds are a little too quick in mid-air and can get away.”
“It’s rather gutsy,” he adds. “When you see them attacking pretty much any bird of prey, they don’t think anything about it.”
This article was first published by National Geographic on 04 Aug 2015.