Evolution in Action: The Augerhawk

A new species of bird, dubbed the “augerhawk” (buteo auguribus volantes) has been spotted in patches of wilderness in or around the Canadian Rockies, Alaska, and parts of the Pacific Northwest.  While closely related to the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) it has developed a fascinating set of genetic mutations resulting in an extremely strong, dense beak and an ability to spin its head at very high speeds.

While most other birds are left to peck at the bark of trees or into the ground to forage for bugs, the augerhawk can bore straight through dirt, mud, wood, ice, and even other animals to get at whatever it wants in the span of seconds.  Adult augerhawks have been known to drill through solid adult pine trees for bugs, ice in frozen ponds for fish, and the occasional elk just for the hell of it.

Augerhawk revving up after spotting an elk.

Dr. Armschulder Schussenshortz of the University of Washington’s Department of Biology commented on the bird’s rapid genetic mutations and recent appearance in the Cascadian bioregion:

“It really is fascinating to see such an amazing level of adaptation in a subspecies of the red tailed hawk.  This is likely attributable to intense periods of local food shortages, where a combination of smaller mammals like squirrels and mice and the less desirable sources of nutrition such as bugs and earthworms are not plentiful enough to sustain them.”

He later went on to describe the mechanics of the neck that give the augerhawk its unique characteristics:  “The extremely flexible tendons connecting the cervical vertebra, the smooth surfaces of the vertebral disks, and extremely powerful fast-twitch muscles in the neck allow for the apparent “drilling” effect.  The combination of this with a strong, stout beak built to withstand impact translates to an entirely novel – and extremely aggressive – way of obtaining food.”

When asked about its tendency to cull local herds of elk for no apparent reason, he admitted that the scientific community is, at this point, in the dark:

“No one’s entirely sure why they target members of the genus Cervus with such ferocity.  Honestly, their entire behavioral profile is erratic, switching between patterns we’ve come to expect from standard red-tail hawk varieties to this vicious, calculating hunter that appears to kill for nothing more than sport.”

Dr. Sschussenshortz leaned back in his chair for a moment and offered a casual philosophical observation.  “It’s as if God watched a couple of those old Phantasm movies late one night and thought he’d try His hand at making a batch of living phase stingers.” 

He shifted in his chair and stared out the window, saying nothing for a moment.  He then added softly after a long pause, “It’s all really quite unsettling.”

Local authorities have warned residents of British Columbia, Alberta, and the Pacific Northwest to exercise caution while engaging in any outdoor activity for extended periods of time.  Dr. Schussenshortz is more pessimistic, commenting that a simply “duck and cover” upon hearing their call won’t do much to stop them.

“They can drill straight through hardwood, solid ice, and bone,” he said.  “Nothing is safe.  Right now, it’s just elk, but what if they evolve further?  For now, if you’re going out for any length of time, the only thing I could recommend is ceramic body armor and a good helmet, preferably with a spike on the top.  Otherwise in the blink of an eye you’ll have a hole the size of an exhaust pipe in your midsection.”

“Actually,” he added, “Screw it.  Just move.  It’s not worth it.”

It should be noted that the only member of the genus Cervus to remain unaffected by the augerhawk is the elusive goofy elk (Cervus canadensis cerritulus).  While the mechanism behind the goofy elk’s defenses are just as elusive as the species itself, it apparently has the ability to compromise the higher thought processes of the augerhawk in mid-flight, even with its head spinning for an attack.  The hawk is rendered helpless and paralyzed on the forest floor for period of time spanning hours to days, depending on the maturity of the elk.

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One Response to Evolution in Action: The Augerhawk

  1. Elyse says:

    I just watched The Birds last night. Glad Hitchcock didn’t know about these babies!

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