December 13, 2018
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Rare hawk’s survival in Maine ‘shocking,’ bird expert says

The rare hawk that shocked bird fans by turning up in Maine this summer has stuck around.

On Thursday, birders flocked to a Portland park to see a great black hawk that an expert with Maine Audubon identified as the same bird that had been spotted in Biddeford in August.

“This is probably the first time anyone has been standing in snow and looking at a great black hawk,” said Doug Hitchcox, an Audubon staff naturalist. “The fact that it’s still alive in Maine right now is shocking.”

Native to Central and South America, the bird that alighted in a tree in Deering Oaks Park Thursday is the first of its kind to be spotted in the United States, according to Hitchcox.

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What’s believed to be same hawk was photographed in South Padre Island, Texas, in the spring and then seen among the pines near a Biddeford pond months later. Hitchcox said it is identifiable by the distinctive feather pattern on the underside of its wings.

Great black hawks do not usually fly farther north than Mexico. What brought this one so far beyond its normal range and how long it will be able to survive in Maine are the types of puzzles that birders live for, Hitchcox said.

Dozens of people passed through the park to catch a glimpse of the rare bird Thursday, but Hitchcox advised those interested to keep a respectful distance.

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“If the bird is reacting to their presence then they’re too close. That includes looking at them,” he said. “Anything closer than 200 feet is probably too close.”

Although the naturalist framed the hawk’s future as “a great question mark,” there are signs it’s been able to handle autumn in Maine. The roughly 18-inch-tall bird recently molted, a sign of health, and it was seen eating a squirrel Thursday, Hitchcox said.

Otherwise, the travel diet of a raptor accustomed to feeding on South American reptiles is a mystery.

“Is it catching lobsters down in Back Cove?” Hitchcox said.

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