Soaring Red-Tail

The stiff northerly breeze was just fine for this Red-tailed Hawk, as for a half-dozen gulls that kept a careful distance. The raptor had its eyes on the northern shoreline, or on the water just offshore. When I was still too far away to make out details, a white bird — probably a White-tailed Kite — buzzed the hawk once or twice, and then left the scene. While I was watching, nobody else bothered the hawk, and the hawk found no reason to dive.

The red-tail is the only raptor seen regularly in the park that’s big enough to take a ground squirrel. I’ve not yet seen a ground squirrel fall victim to a raptor, but I expect to see it happen. Small mammals are the red-tail’s preferred food. This makes it a competitor to the White-tailed Kite. I once saw a kite repeatedly buzz and harass a red-tail; see this post. The red-tail has also been known to attack blackbirds. Burrowing Owls are well within the size and weight range of its diet. When the red-tail arrives, all kinds of little creatures pay attention and look for their hiding places.

A hawk’s sharp vision is legendary, but that doesn’t do justice to just how good it is. According to Ann Hay, who keeps a red-tail for falconry,

Like eagles, falcons, and other hawks, red-tailed hawks see in magnification, and with saturated color perception that is far superior to ours. Red-tails are capable of spotting a small mouse a mile away. A human may not notice a small brown mouse on a brownish rock, but to a red-tail who sees that mouse two to three times larger than we do, and whose color saturation gives him the ability to distinctly see the difference in the brown of the mouse and the brown of the rock, spotting the mouse is much easier.

Links: Wikipedia Audubon Cornell

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

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