Sunday, February 28, 2016

Red Tailed Hawk Over the Backyard

Red Tailed Hawk perched over the Backyard - the first time presence of this big hawk may explain the recent loss of Mother Squirrel as these hawks primarily eat rodents. The hunting Cooper's Hawks seem to prefer Doves and other birds and the Red Shouldered Hawks seems to prefer birds, snakes and lizards. Interesting that a Red Tailed Hawk would suddenly appear in an area historically frequented by Cooper's and Red Shouldered Hawks. There must be an abundance of food this winter or these raptors are increasing in numbers and spreading out into new territory. These hawks are usually not migratory in this area although their numbers may temporarily increase from the north during winter. Magnificent birds that they are - it is not clear how three species of hawks are going to coexist in such close quarters.

The red-tailed hawk is one of the most widely scattered hawks in the Americas. It breeds from central Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories east to southern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and south to Florida, the West Indies, and Central America. The winter range stretches from southern Canada south throughout the remainder of the breeding range.

Its preferred habitat is mixed forest and field, with high bluffs or trees that may be used as perch sites. It occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes, including deserts, grasslands, coastal regions, mountains, foothills, coniferous and deciduous woodlands, tropical rainforests, agricultural fields and urban areas.

The red-tailed hawk is widespread in North America, partially due to historic settlement patterns, which have benefited it. The clearing of forests in the Northeast created hunting areas, while the preservation of woodlots left the species with viable nest sites. The increase in trees throughout the Great Plains during the past century due to fire suppression and tree planting facilitated the western range expansion of the red-tailed hawk as well as range expansions of many other species of birds. The construction of highways with utility poles alongside treeless medians provided perfect habitat for perch-hunting. Unlike some other raptors, the red-tailed hawk are seemingly unfazed by considerable human activity and can nest and live in close proximity to large numbers of humans. Thus, the species can also be found in cities, where common prey such as rock pigeons and brown rats may support their populations. One famous urban red-tailed hawk, known as "Pale Male", became the subject of a non-fiction book, Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park, and is the first known red-tail in decades to successfully nest and raise young in the crowded New York City borough of Manhattan.
The red-tailed hawk is carnivorous, and an opportunistic feeder. Its diet is mainly small mammals, but it also includes birds and reptiles. Prey varies with regional and seasonal availability, but usually centers on rodents, comprising up to 85% of a hawk's diet. Most commonly reported prey types include mice, including both native Peromyscus species and house mice; gophers, voles, chipmunks, ground squirrels and tree squirrels. Additional prey (listed by descending likelihood of predation) include lagomorphs, shrews, bats, pigeons, quail, corvids, waterfowl, other raptors, reptiles, fish, crustaceans, insects and earthworms. Where found in Caribbean islands, red-tailed hawks prey mostly on reptiles such as snakes and lizards, since these are perhaps the most predominant native land animals of that region. Prey specimens can range to as small a size as beetles and worms. However, they can also prey on marmots, white-tailed jackrabbits, or female wild turkey, all of which are at least easily double the weight of most red-tails. Although they prefer to feed on fresh prey they've killed themselves, these hawks are not above occasionally consuming carrion. During winter in captivity, an average red-tail will eat about 135 g (4.8 oz) daily.

The red-tailed hawk commonly employs one of two hunting techniques. Often, they scan for prey activity from an elevated perch site, swooping down from the perch to seize the prey. They also watch for prey while flying, either capturing a bird in flight or pursuing prey on the ground until they can pin them down in their talons. Red-tailed hawks, like some other raptors, have been observed to hunt in pairs. This may consist of stalking opposites sides of a tree, in order to surround a tree squirrel and almost inevitably drive the rodent to be captured by one after being flushed by the other hawk.They are opportunistically attracted to conspicuous meals, such as displaying male red-winged blackbirds.

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Red Tailed Hawk