I have a confession: This week’s bird wasn’t in my back yard, but rather in our collective back yard. I was driving south on Unser when, in the distance, I saw a large, soaring bird. I will often assume it’s another Common Raven, but this time it wasn’t! This time is was a Red-Tailed Hawk, and he was soaring above the field on the east side of the road. So what does a birder like me do? Pull over and start snapping photos, of course! And thank goodness, he flew directly overhead!
The Red-Tailed Hawk is common across nearly all of the U.S., and in the West they come in a wide variety of shades of brown and cream. This variety is called a “morph”. This particular one, I think, was a light morph juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk, though to be perfectly honest, I struggle with identifying the difference between juvenile and adult hawks. This hawk’s tail feathers are very light with very evenly spaced brown bands, leading me to my conclusion that this is a juvenile. These birds are also pretty good sized at between 18 and 25 inches long, with a wingspan of up to four feet!
These hawks eat mostly small mammals and birds. They will soar over fields, like my friend here, and scope the territory for mice, squirrels, and other small rodents. They will also eat smaller birds, snakes, bats, toads, insects, and a variety of other critters.
Although I haven’t witnessed it, the courting behavior of Red-Tailed Hawks sounds fascinating. According to The Audubon Society, a male and female will soar high in the air, screeching back and forth to one another. The male will often find a bit of food for the female, then pass it to her mid-flight. Once the courtship has been successful, the mated pair will make a messy bowl of a nest high in a tree, pole,or other high perch where the female will lay two to four eggs.
Both parents will tend to the eggs for about a month, when the female will then tent to the hatchlings on her own for a few weeks. The male will bring most of the food during this time, and the female will tear it up to feed it to the young. Eventually, both parents will hunt and air drop food into the nest until the young leave the nest, usually not for several weeks.
These birds can be seen throughout the year, so keep your eyes peeled for these graceful, soaring beauties!
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