The black kite: an intelligent hawk
“Through the lens”, Fujingaho Magazine, August 2021
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Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado
English translation: Asia Club, a group of WBSJ volunteers (YOKOYAMA Kazuko, KASE Tomoko, UENO Naohiro)
When I was a fourth grade elementary school girl, my family and I left the United States and returned to Japan. In my new school I learned a song called Tombi, or black kite. It was an old song from the Taisho era, but its lyrics accurately described the behavior of the bird: how it circled high in the sky, calling out “pin-yo-low” or “pee-hyo-lo-low. – a spectacle that is now common to the Japanese. This month I’d like to show you some photos of Black Kites to help you feel a little cooler in the summer heat, and highlight my favorite aspects of their ecology.
The black kite Milvus migrans is a bird of prey in the Accipitridae family, which includes hawks and eagles. But despite its noble characteristics, in the eyes of the public it is often considered one of the most inferior birds of this group. I often feel sorry for this because of Japanese sayings such as “a kite begets a hawk” (meaning an exceptional child born to common parents), “even a kite looks like a hawk when it is. sitting “or” a kite chick never grows. to be a hawk ”. The main reason why the kite is badly talked about in this way is that it is a scavenger that feeds not only on living animals, but also on dead animals. But to keep our environment clean, we need the services provided by Black Kite. Isn’t it unfortunate for the bird to be rated low because of its cleaning behavior?
The Royal Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, Mountain Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus nipalensis and the Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis are considered high class in Japan, as they were used in falconry. The Black Kite, however, has never been used for this purpose as it primarily feeds on dead animals. Even when hunting, it catches insects, frogs and rodents, which are very different game from that practiced in this sport.
As scavengers, Black Kites tend to form large herds. This is another factor that makes them less popular than other hawks, who appear proud and lonely. Additionally, they have a habit of soaring and soaring thermals to search for dead animals from above in the sky, which can make their movement lazy for some.
As slow as they may seem to be going around in circles, it’s not that they can’t react quickly. In fact, their eyesight is as sharp as that of other birds of prey. There is a Japanese saying that you can get your fried tofu ripped off by a black kite. Along the coastal areas of Kanagawa Prefecture, black kites often steal the contents of a lunchbox, or even an ice cream, out of a tourist’s hand. From tourists feeding them or eating outside, the birds must have identified these items as their “hunting target”. They are not to blame, but it is understandable that such behavior does not translate into a good public image, compared to other birds of prey that feed on live animals.
In Nihon shoki, or the Chronicle of Japan, there is the story of a certain black kite with a golden color. He perched on the tip of Emperor Jinmu’s arrow, blinded enemies’ eyes with light, and ultimately led the Emperor to victory. Thus, the Black Kite was once a sacred bird, but has come to assume a negative image – probably since becoming dependent on human life. The bird can only coexist with human beings because it is too careful with us to be tamed. This characteristic can give it an even more negative image.
It is no good that the Black Kite is on the increase these days, while other species in the Accipitridae family are generally in decline. As we often say, “a wise hawk keeps its claws in reserve.” Perhaps the Black Kite is such a hawk, because he has the craftiness, as well as the learning ability, to invent an efficient way to find enough food.
Looking down on Black Kite is, so to speak, a prejudice. Convincing myself not to be prejudiced, I would dare to insist that the black kite is unmistakably a hawk – intelligent with an important role.