Love me some hawks

3 red-tailed hawk PB074118© Maria de Bruyn res

After focusing mostly on the genus accipiter hawks in my last blog (especially the Cooper’s), I’d like to share a few more photos of buteo hawks that are common where I live. Taken over the past 4 years or so, the photos will vary and show them in various seasons.

The buteos are larger birds than the accipiters and somehow seem a bit more relaxed to me than the feisty accipiters.

1 red-tailed hawk P9199892 © Maria de Bruyn res

The red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis, above) are beauties as adults with dark red tail feathers. I tend to see them most often when I am away from home, visiting fields and natural areas. Frequently, I spot them when they are hunting. Their diets are rich and varied since they see almost any small animal as a potential meal. That includes rodents, rabbits, reptiles, fish, amphibians, invertebrates and other birds.

2 red-tailed hawk P9199889 © Maria de Bruyn res (2)

 

Those dietary choices mean that I regularly see them being chased by other birds, especially in the spring when the other birds want to protect their nestlings from the predatory beaks of the red-tails. Crows especially can get very raucous and angry when red-tailed hawks are near their nests.

8 red-tailed hawk P4159552© Maria de Bruyn res

9 red-tailed hawk P4159557 © Maria de Bruyn res

 

The red-tailed hawk below was being chased away as s/he flew away with a squirrel.

11 red-tailed hawk P5134700© Maria de Bruyn res

There are 14 recognized sub-species of red-tailed hawks, which vary in color and range. In the area where I live, we have many Eastern red-tailed hawks, but last year I spotted another type flying over farmland. I asked experts from a raptor identification group for some assistance in describing it.

4 red-tailed hawk PB243087© Maria de Bruyn ed

One expert remarked: “This is a juvenile by the monochromatic brown tones, spotted bellyband and lack of dark terminal band on the wings….As a juvenile there is more overlap in phenotype than in adults, and often we cannot identify them to subspecies level.” She went on: “…this bird could be either a slightly heavier marked Eastern (borealis) or a Northern (abieticola). To me it is not heavily enough marked to be a slam dunk abieticola and I would probably not assign a subspecies to it.”

5 red-tailed hawk PB243137© Maria de Bruyn ed sgd

I asked if that meant that a Northern red-tailed hawk could be found in North Carolina and not just the Eastern sub-species, so I could start watching for those distinctions. She responded: “only in winter and probably not overly often that far south, but certainly worth keeping a look out for them.” I haven’t seen this hawk again to my knowledge.

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One of my favorite portrait photos (below) is of a red-tailed hawk. Taken in 2015, the bird flew across a field to perch in a tree right next to the path on which I and four other people were walking. S/he had seen a hispid cotton rat crawl into the vegetation underneath the tree. My birding companions walked on but I stayed and after 20 minutes or so, the hawk suddenly dropped down and snagged the rat, which must have had a terrifying wait at the end of its life. The hawk was very handsome though.

13 Red-tailed hawk DK7A6468.© Maria de Bruyn res

While the red-tailed hawks are impressive, I have a softer spot for the red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus). Somehow they look less fierce and a bit sweeter to me.42 red-shouldered hawk P1280192© Maria de Bruyn res

I see them carrying out all kinds of behaviors. Sometimes, they are just flying overhead, showing off their red shoulders as they travel aloft.

14 red-shouldered hawk PC089000 © Maria de Bruyn res

They often perch high in trees to survey their territory.

15 red-shouldered hawk P2032292 © Maria de Bruyn

16 red-shouldered hawk PB148090© Maria de Bruyn sgd res

 17 red-shouldered hawk PB148081 © Maria de Bruyn res

18 red-shouldered hawk P4256997© Maria de Bruyn res     19 red-shouldered hawk P4256970 © Maria de Bruyn res

Tree tops often serve as a place to cuddle up when it is cold.

20 red-shouldered hawk P1128630© Maria de Bruyn res sgd

21 red-shouldered hawk P1128629 © Maria de Bruyn res sgd

They seem to enjoy preening when high up on snags at all times of year.

23 red-shouldered hawk PB043026 © Maria de Bruyn res

22 red-shouldered hawk PB043004 © Maria de Bruyn res

24 red-shouldered hawk PC103338© Maria de Bruyn res

A snag can be a place to call out to mates.

25 red-shouldered hawk PA074393© Maria de Bruyn res

 

And a level branch is a good place to mate.

26 red-shouldered hawk P3118052© Maria de Bruyn

Sitting very still, they scan the ground to spot prey, which they often capture by dropping straight down to kill it in a fast strike. Their diet is varied, including many types of rodents and mammals such as squirrels, mice, chipmunks, voles. They also attack birds up to the size of jays, grouse or pheasants.

28A red-shouldered hawk PC204514 © Maria de Bruyn

 

When I’ve seen them snag prey, it has usually been smaller prey such as frogs, lizards, snakes and other reptiles and amphibians. A pair of red-shouldered hawks living at an urban park in a nearby city must really enjoy the crayfish that are abundant in the wetlands.

28 red-shouldered hawk PC204381 © Maria de Bruyn res

These hawks will perch on many handy lookout posts when surveying the ground for prey. This one sat on a feeder at the local public library, suddenly flew a short way to drop down into the leaves and brush under nearby trees and seemed to be wrestling with a rodent of some kind. S/he left without the prey, however.

29 red-shouldered hawk P1300684© Maria de Bruyn. res

30 Red-shouldered hawk P1300812 © Maria de Bruyn res

 31 red-shouldered hawk P1300816 © Maria de Bruyn res

In my yard, a resident red-shouldered hawk not only sits on branches but occasionally on a nest box, to the dismay of nearby songbirds. One ate all the large green frogs in my pond.

32 red-shouldered hawk P4257137 © Maria de Bruyn res

At a small public park in a neighboring town, I watched a red-shouldered scan the field below intently for quite some time. The raptor then surprised me by dropping swiftly down, snagging something small and flying up to another tree to eat.

33 red-shouldered hawk P4106575 © Maria de Bruyn res

It wasn’t until I enlarged the photos I took that I saw the bird had gotten a large worm. (When I posted the photo on facebook, a witty commentator remarked that he was collecting bait to go fishing!)

34 red-shouldered hawk P4106576© Maria de Bruyn (2)

35 red-shouldered hawk PB180186© Maria de Bruyn (2)

Occasionally, they may be injured. This young hawk was perched in an out-of-the-way spot in a park and when I posted these photos, a commentator remarked that the bird looked injured with a wing out of place. She suggested I contact a rehabilitator but the bird eventually flew away seeming to be ok.

 

36 red-shouldered hawk PB180215© Maria de Bruyn res

37 red-shouldered hawk PB180192 © Maria de Bruyn res (2)

While I know these raptors can be just as fierce as the other hawks, I do tend to think of the red-shouldered hawks as having sweet faces. Having watched them tend to their young, I know they can be very devoted parents and I always enjoy seeing them!

43 red-shouldered hawk P1280223© Maria de Bruyn res

Final note: “I love me some hawks” is not a title I would have chosen some years ago, but I liked it for this blog as it indicates —to me —enjoyment of something. I decided to look up where the phrase came from and ended up with several explanations: 1) an ungrammatical expression that might be associated with African American vernacular or with the rural areas of the southern US states; 2) an annoying phrase usually used by the middle-class; 3) a slang way of saying ‘I really love’; 4) a novel grammatical structure indicating “I always like” something. Kinda like the middle voice in ancient Greek. Well….at least I learned something new today. 😊

39 red-shouldered hawk PC100502© Maria de Bruyn (2)

Next blog – no birds but interesting creatures nonetheless!

2 thoughts on “Love me some hawks

  1. Gorgeous photos!! I really like how you capture the hawks in flight. And I agree that the red shouldereds have gentler expressions than other hawks – they seem more serene in the world as they perch and gaze about. And isn’t there an expression in a song that goes, “I cried me a river over you”? Colloquial English does have a middle voice!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your observations, Lucretia! I was a bit surprised by the judgmental remarks about the phrase “I love me some”; the writers must be real sticklers for grammar or a bit snobbish. Something the birds don’t need to worry about when they vocalize! 🙂

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