Back to Nature (Published on - July 19, 2007)
Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis
Photo by LEE KARNEY Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A Red-Tailed Hawk surveys his territory from high upon a dead tree perch.
The spring sun felt warm upon my face. The rains had finally abandoned the fields. There were butterflies drying their wings from atop turned up sunflowers.

The blue sky contrasted with the bright, yellow-green newly unfurled leaves.

The scent of damp earth steamed into the air, then all of a sudden the apple tree exploded into a burst of frantic activity, sending sparrows hiding and blue jays screaming at the top of their lungs, frightening warnings.

Overhead I saw the cause for all this commotion, a red-tailed hawk swooped over the field, disappearing among cornstalks then suddenly reappeared with a mouse dangling from her talons.

“I love hawks, but I just hate mice,” my mother shuddered.

After observing many hawks take many a mouse, I asked my mother, “Why haven’t the mice learned to understand the bird language of warnings? It’d certainly be to their benefit!”

“Oh gosh, girl, there’s too many mice. Would love to see them all go! Hooray to the hawks.”

“But mom,” I prodded, “without mice there wouldn’t be any hawks.” Grinning she nodded and declared, “Not much peace for the meeces.” We broke into laughter.

The red-tailed hawk, one of the most widespread and commonly seen hawks, was one of the first birds of prey that I came to recognize as a young girl.

This bird, with its rounded, rusty-red tail banded with a thin dark line across the feathers near the end, was easily identified from a distance as the hawk glided, soared or swooped in the sky effortlessly over the fields; talons outstretched, ready for action. They rarely hover.

When seen from below you may be able to notice a wide darkish, bellyband below its white chest. Immature birds are harder to identify, for their color is darker. The red on the tail is not as prominent and may not appear yet at all.

The three types of dark Red-tails are dark morph, rufous morph and Harlan’s Hawk. Summer is one of the best times of the year to observe the red-tailed hawk. There is an abundance of wild grains coming into maturity. As a result there is an abundance of rodents, the red-tailed hawk’s favorite gourmet delight. The main diet of the red-tailed hawk is rodents, although some small birds also fall prey to this hunter’s expertise.

The red-tailed hawk is often observed perching on poles or treetops. They prefer living in wooded areas with clearings, fields, meadows, or coolies nearby. For me the most dependable way of recognizing this bird is its high-pitched scream, keeer-r-r (slurring downward) seeming to come from all directions. When you hear this, stop and look up and around. There is usually a scattering of birds for shelter in the trees with numerous alarms being vocalized, but no meese peace...back to nature.

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