With our habitat situation we are fortunate to see a lot of raptor activity. We have a pair of resident red-tailed hawks that have been here since we arrived in 2004. I have no way of knowing if they have been the same pair, however there seems to be always two that act as a pair. Sometimes we’ll see three, however, that third one, if adult, is not usually welcomed. We have seen a few of the resident pair’s fledgelings over the years ( I have a photo of one on my Bird Walks page). We have a fair amount of Cooper’s hawk sightings, red-shouldered hawks, which the red-tailed promptly chase off, as well as some sharped-shinned and northern harrier sightings. Seasonally we have had peregrine and merlin falcons and all that is topped of with great horned, barn and western screech owls. With the pastures around us full of ground squirrels and rabbits and the oak grove full of birds and squirrels there is a lot of food available and the result is that a lot of hawks actively hunt this area. Well, that’s only when the resident red-taileds haven’t seen them come around. All the other raptors have to be very stealthy while hunting here. Our “Birding Table-North Yard” is also where we entertain outside, in the shade of the oak canopy. My good birding friend Brad was with Alexi and I on a typically beautiful Southern California afternoon in late spring several years ago. There were two adult American robins foraging around next to us with a squawking fledgeling about twenty feet up in one of the oaks. It was fully colored and fatter than it’s parents so it was quite close to the parents not feeding it anymore. It was just squawking away begging for food. A noise and commotion up in the fledgeling’s tree caught our attention. It was one of the red-tailed hawks crashing in to nab the little sucker! We watched it secure the bird in it’s talons and fly off to another oak a few hundred feet away with the two parents screaming in pursuit! Needless to say, we were all quite amazed. I have had a few other sightings of hawk kills since and have had the good fortune to get a few photos, although not of the highest quality as I only have a 200 focal length lens and really need a 400, oh well, maybe Christmas. One thing that my friend Brad taught me was to look up at the pigeons when they flush from the trees with their clashing of wings to see if any predators may have flushed them. Most times one sees nothing, but sometimes… I was by myself at the “Birding Table-North Yard” one day a few yeas ago when the pigeons flushed from the eucalyptus trees that are across the driveway. When I looked up to inspect I observed a band-tailed pigeon flailing away, falling to the ground with a Cooper’s hawk attached to it! They fell to the ground at the end of the road and I immediately ran in for my camera.
I stayed very low as I tried to get as close as I could. The hawk was shielding its catch with it’s wings to keep it from being seen by other predators. I went back inside to alert Alexi as to what was happening, as she was upstairs taking a nap. As we peered out the window a red-tailed hawk came swooping down and forced the Cooper’s off the kill. I went downstairs for some more photo opps. When I got outside, stealthily, I could see the red-tailed on the fence and the pigeon on the ground close to the fence, where the Cooper’s had dropped it when forced off. The red-tailed did not seem to see the pigeon on the ground. I went back inside for a little bit and when I came out I could still see the pigeon but could not find the red-tailed. As I looked upon the scene I noticed the Cooper’s coming back from the north side working it’s way through the oak canopy. I decided to move the pigeon from the end of the road closer to the fence. As I walked out the driveway the red-tailed, which I couldn’t see, flushed from his perch in a valley oak just west of the eucalyptus and flew south. Apparently it could not discern the pigeon laying on the ground! It had plenty of time to take it while I was in the house. Oh well, better for the Cooper’s. I moved the pigeon a few feet closer and went back inside to watch from the upstairs bedroom window. The Cooper’s soon found the pigeon and dragged it into the shadows of the oaks. The hawk began to “tenderize” the pigeon for about fifteen minutes with its talons by alternately grabbing and squeezing it.
It then proceeded to do some plucking and started eating. Off and on, from the kitchen window, we watched that hawk eat for about three hours and then it was gone. Once it eats a lot of its prey it can then fly off with the rest to consume later. This was all that was left.
I have learned that this type of feather pile is indicative of a hawk kill. I see them around from time to time. Most of the time it is pigeon feathers. We have a very large flock of about 60 here so there are plenty around. Hey, I like Squab.
On another salubrious day at the “Birding Table-North Yard” a few years later another commotion just above our heads caught our attention. While a pair of acorn woodpeckers where flying across the yard underneath the oak canopy a Cooper’s hawk comes up from behind and grabs one of the woodpeckers and lands just on the other side of the fence! In for the camera I go. Sometimes I feel like I have to constantly have my binoculars over one shoulder and my camera over the other for fear of missing something around here!
Being that the woodpecker is smaller prey the hawk quickly took it off to a more secluded spot to eat. Another amazing event that I was able to observe!
Just a couple of weeks ago I was out checking on the Nuttall’s woodpecker nest ( see previous post, “Nesting Nuttall’s” ) when a movement caught my eye. It was a Cooper’s with a squirrel in its talons in the middle of the driveway! Quickly I went back into the house for the camera, of course. the hawk seemed to instinct-fully take his prey into the shadows which made for some lousy photos. It also made it tough to ID the squirrel, he had it kind of rolled into a ball. It was not until I did a little photo shop on the photos that I was able to tell it was a mantled ground squirrel and not one of our new, young fox squirrels from this spring.
Of note here is that I have showed a little bit if the ART of enjoying nature. Most wild animals freeze when looked directly at and move only when we look away. Be alert to the movements around you. Your peripheral vision will alert you to more animals than you can imagine. Listening to the sounds around you is also very rewarding. The pigeons flushing from the trees is a great example of that. I also listen to the predator warning calls from the squirrels and the birds and have been rewarded many times for that. The reason that I got to notice a long-tailed weasel here one day was because of my reacting to some warning calls from some birds! Hone those senses and you will be rewarded!
Yours in Nature,