Late-morning hawk-watching – Part 1
North Carolina is known among birders as a destination for “hawk watches,” i.e., gatherings of people to see groups of hawks that are migrating south (for winter) or north (for summer). The Blue Ridge and Smoky mountains offer wind currents that birds can use to speed their journeys and many raptor fans travel to Grandfather Mountain’s Linville Peak to see the spectacle in autumn. Some also go to the hawk watch at Pilot Mountain State Park. The birds on view at the two sites include bald and golden eagles, peregrine falcons, kestrels, merlins, broad-winged hawks, Northern harriers, sharp-shinned and red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) like the one below.
As October progresses and migration is winding down, however, we continue to see resident raptors roaming in our area.
The red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) are looking for easy meals. Their favored foods, in addition to smaller birds and mammals, include amphibians. My yard contains a couple small ponds, which have become favored habitats for local bullfrogs and green frogs (Lithobates clamitans).
This year, the green frogs predominated; the largest ones especially drew my attention with their loud croaking. In between vocalizations, they looked like they were wrestling. Together they contributed to a bounty of frog eggs.
Their amorous calling also attracted one of the neighborhood red-shouldered hawks, whom I spotted sitting on a tree branch overhanging the smaller pond. S/he was patient in watching and a couple days later I noticed a lack of croaking and then found a hawk feather in the water.
Some weeks later, I saw a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) fly by quickly with a frog dangling from its beak at a city park, but the bird was too far away for a good photo. I had had better photographic luck on another morning when I happened upon a red-shouldered hawk pursuing frogs at nature reserve pond.
At first, I didn’t realize what the bird was doing. I saw the raptor intently peering down at the muddy pond’s edge and walking back and forth along the water.
Then, suddenly, I saw the hawk plunging its claws into the ground, apparently trying to dig something up.
It used its wings for balance as it clawed at the wet sand.
I felt sorry for the frogs that were caught. Their final life moments must have been spent in terror and pain as they were dismembered.
It seems to me that the great blue heron’s propensity to swallow its food whole must ultimately be a quicker death for the prey.
The hawks must also eat, however, and this is the poor frogs’ fate in many cases.
And I must admit that it was interesting – if also rather uncomfortable – for me to see how the hawk was hunting.
Next up – another local raptor keeps me watching in fascination.