Photographer David Hauer saw this big Red-tailed Hawk with a wriggling juvenile Gopher Snake in its beak. Looking at the bands on both of its feet, this is almost certainly the same hawk that Phil Rowntree photographed on top of a lightpole on University Avenue. In Phil’s photo, the red band on the bird’s right leg showed “CA” and here it shows the reverse side, the number 908. It’s like the bird has a license plate.
This is not the same bird as the one that frequented the trees over the heads of outdoor preschool classes in the Native Plant Area; that one was not banded. Judging by its hefty size, this one here is probably a female; they are about 25 percent bigger than males (but you’d have to see them side by side to be certain). It may also be a youngster, if the yellow eyes are any indication; as they mature, the eyes turn reddish-brown. The redness of the tail, which gives the bird its common name, is best seen in flight, when the tailfeathers are fanned out.
Red-tails will eat any animal protein. They mostly take small mammals such as voles and squirrels, but where those are not handy, they’ll eat reptiles, birds, amphibians, even crickets and earthworms. There’s a long and detailed survey of their diet in the Wikipedia article. They usually hunt by sitting on a tall perch and waiting for something to stir below, then pouncing. They can also hover in a stiff breeze, or hunt on their feet. They’re highly versatile and adaptable.