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Unobtrusive, Breeding Resident… Pacific Baza

By Keith Hutton on August 25, 2015 in Other

Photo: Ian Montgomery

Photo: Ian Montgomery

Pacific Bazas used to be regarded as rare vagrants in Sydney. However, more recently they have been recognised as established residents in forested areas throughout the region, and breeding has been recorded in the area for almost 20 years. Over the last two months, there have been several sightings of this strikingly beautiful bird of prey in a number of city locations, including Centennial Parklands, where a pair was seen in June.

Crested Hawk is an alternative name for the Pacific Baza, which is unobtrusive when perched quietly among leafy branches, but more conspicuous in the breeding season when males call and display spectacularly above the forest canopy. Even when not nesting they are usually seen in the air just above the treetops, soaring with flat wings, either singly, in pairs or occasionally in larger groups. They are medium-size grey hawks, about as big as magpies, with long, broad, prominently fingered wings, a long tail, an obvious stiff crest and piercing yellow eyes. Underwings are rounded and closely barred, and the undertail is pale grey with a broad black terminal band. The lower breast and belly are white and boldly marked with dark brown bars. Sexes are similar with no seasonal plumage changes, and juvenile birds look very much like adults, but browner.

Pacific Bazas are generally sedentary but locally dispersive and occur from the western Kimberley to the Top End, and from Cape York south to Moruya. They are also resident in eastern Indonesia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Their preferred habitats are tropical and sub-tropical forests and woodlands, largely within 300km of the coast. In the breeding season they frequent tree-lined watercourses, rainforest, sclerophyll forest and tall woodland, but range widely following nesting to lower ground, when they may visit urban parks and gardens. They are less common in the south of their range, and rare south of Sydney.

The diet of Pacific Bazas includes mostly insects, frogs and small reptiles, with small mammals, nestling birds and some fruits also taken. They appear to prefer tree frogs and stick insects captured in the forest canopy. They forage almost exclusively in the tops of leafy trees, especially along forest edges and stream borders, where they snatch food items from the outer foliage, or pursue larger, more active prey through the leaves and branches. Occasionally they feed on the ground.

They are generally thinly scattered and easily overlooked throughout their range, and seldom common. There is little evidence of conflict between them and people, or their pastimes and farming endeavours. Extensive forest clearing probably makes areas unsuitable for breeding, but more discriminate timber harvesting may create improved conditions for bazas to hunt. The most recent atlas survey of Australian birds concluded there has been no change in regional distribution, but a significant increase in reporting rates for Pacific Bazas in Australia. Consequently they are considered to be under no threat and their conservation status is recognised as being of least concern.