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Gardening For Wildlife #50 Red-Tailed Hawks
January 14, 2008

Some frustrations today.

This is my third attempt to write the newsletter.

The first two attempts ended somewhere out in space I assume.

Maybe the third time will be a charm.


I'll feel better when this is mailed.

A blessed new week to you.

The weather has been a bit entertaining to say the least.

In less than a week's time we had a nice snow storm followed by thunderstorms, tornado warnings, a flood watch, more mild weather and again snow.

The ice on the pond has melted and just like magic some ducks and geese show up.

Ziggy the poodle pup keeps us on our toes as well as tormenting Akita and the cats.

To bad Keet can't remember she was the same way two years ago.

The two dogs are getting along much better though.

Ziglet is a chewer.

Anything he can get his mouth on.

If you have any helpful ideas on dealing with a chewer, I'm all ears.

The mild weather has kept the bird activity at my feeders down.

There are fewer Goldfinches, though the redpolls make up for that.

Juncos and Tree sparrows have been a rare sight up until today.

The over night snow has brought several Cardinals. The cardinals are regulars, but more in the morning and at dusk.

Chickadees have been stopping by 6 to 8 at a time and of course, my Red-breasted nuthatches.

There are a few visits from Downy woodpeckers, White-breasted nuthatches, Tufted-titmice Purple and Housefinches.

Even the Mourning doves aren't as plentiful when the weather is nice.

Shoot, I haven't seen the turkeys in a couple of weeks.

So, where are the birds?

Birds have scoped out and claimed a feeding territory last fall.

That goes for migrating birds as well as the locals.

They know where every feeder is and what you offer.

They also know where the fields, meadows, ditches and wooded areas are.

By now you may understand that birds prefer foraging in nature. If you go for walks, you may notice bird activity.

The mild weather offers them that opportunity.

They can feed on seed, graze for insects and insect eggs.

Doing what birds do.

If they need a quick fix, we have it for them.

This is also why "Gardening For Wildlife" is important.

By having a patch of shrubs and earth for them to forage in, you will see more birds, more often.

By the way, if your feeders aren't emptying out like they should, you may want to check your feed for mold or sprouting.

Warmer, wet weather will do that.

Some people will travel several miles and wait for hours to hopefully see what I was privileged to witness last week.

I went outside to feed the birds and noticed the resident Red-tail hawks flying close and in rapid circles.

I'm fascinated with raptors and enjoy watching them in flight.

Well, the pair continued to fly up high and dive down and circle in a manner I have never seen before.

What I was witnessing, was a courtship flight or aerial dance.

To my delight, this went on for several minutes.

The only thing missing was when the pair grasp each other feet first and spiral down.

Still, I consider it a privilege to watch nature perform.

Often it is a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Red-tail hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are the most common hawk in North America.

Many birds of prey start courtship in January and continue through March (owls are busy hooting at night).

During courtship, the hawks will defend their territory from other like birds. In this time, they will construct or remodel an old nest.

At two years old, they are old enough to find a mate and mate for life.

Nests can be anywhere from 35 feet off the ground and higher. They can be 3 feet wide and older nests grow much like an eagles nest.

In some locations, Great horned owls will take over an old hawk nest.

Mating takes place lasting a whole five seconds.

She will then lay 1 to 5 eggs with 2 to 3 being the norm.

Incubation can last from 28 to 35 days and both parents lay on the clutch, though she is on the nest more than 2/3 of the time. and he will bring her food.

The young fledge about 45 to 50 days from hatching. Red-tailed hawks are large raptors (birds of prey). They weigh 1 - 4 pounds and have a wingspan of 4 feet.

Males and females look alike, but the female is about 1/3 larger.

These hawks have dark brown backs with light-colored bellies streaked with brown.

Their tails are a rusty reddish brown color. Their tails turn red when they are 2 years old; (before that, their tails are brown).

There are morphs with different coloration and markings.

Hawks have excellent eyesight and can spot a mouse from 100 yards away.

They live as far north as Alaska and as far south as Central America.

Red-tailed hawks don't really migrate as much as it is moving where the food is. My hawks are year round birds.

Red-tailed hawks do not usually live deep in the woods. They like to live along the edge of a forest because it is easier to catch mice in an open area.

These hawks and Great horned owls both live on the forest edge, but they dont have to compete (fight) for food.

Since the hawk hunts during day, and the owl hunts at night, they never see each other!

Red-tailed hawks are active fliers; they flap a lot, and they soar.

I like to watch the hawks play in the wind.

When they see a mouse, they dive straight down (stoop) at up to 120 MPH to catch it with sharp talons (claws).

They also hunt by sitting on a perch and watching for prey. Then they pounce on it! This perch can be a fence post or a dead tree.

A good territory has many perches. Red-tailed hawks will eat any animal that is raccoon-sized or smaller, even pets. 85% of their diet is made up of mammals, like mice, squirrels, and rabbits.

About 10% of the hawks prey are birds like ducks or woodpeckers.

Red-tailed hawks aren't your typical backyard or feeder hawks, they aren't built for the objects they would have to dodge. The rest of their diet (only 5%) is made up of snakes, frogs, fish, and grasshoppers.

When young hawks are learning to hunt, they find a low perch to sit on and swoop down on the prey. They are not good enough yet to attack from the sky.

I have no idea where my hawks nest, but if you ever spot a nest, enjoy it from a distance.

Many birds of prey are quick to abandon a nest if humans get to close.

Like all Native and migratory birds, they are protected.

Enjoy them for what they are and remember they help to keep rodent populations in check.

Hawks are vital to a healthy ecosystem.

Well, that's it for now.

God has richly blessed us with his wildlife.

He has richly blessed me with you.

Smiles are a simple act, yet they are priceless.

Share your smiles, you never know what the return on it will be.

It's time to fly.

Until next time.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

Gardening For Wildlife.

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