Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hawks in Our Yard

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

With the heavy snows and extreme cold that we are having here in New Brunswick our yard bird feeders are very active. We have many birds coming to feed including Black-capped Chickadees, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches, American Goldfinches, Common Redpolls, Mourning Doves and even Bohemian Waxwings. Heavy bird traffic attracts other birds including hawks. Yes, hawks (and eagles) have been watching our yard periodically all winter.
There is a Red-tailed Hawk hanging around the community.  He visits our yard now and then.  He is a fine specimen and seems to be making it through the winter well so far.  In the photo below notice the dark band across the cream-coloured breast.  The red on the tail is not always visible but is often seen on a flying adult.  The red colour is muted on the underside of the tail but a nice rusty brown on the top side.

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawks eat mostly rodents but would take a song bird in the winter.  Red-tails migrate south in the fall but a few overwinter here.

Another common hawk here in winter is the Sharp-shinned Hawk.  It is a fast flyer and has streaked through our yard many times this winter.  It has taken a Mourning Dove twice that we know about.  It flies through very fast and grabs its prey before it has a chance to escape.  The picture below is borrowed from the Internet.  'Sharpies' are so fast it is difficult to get a good photo.

Sharp-shinned Hawk [Internet photo]
These are the only two hawks species we have had in our yard this winter but last winter we had a really rare hawk visit us.  It perched in one of our trees for most of the afternoon.  It was sunning itself and seemed to enjoy watching the bird activity around it.  This was a Red-shouldered Hawk and it is not normally here especially in winter.  It normally spends the winter from southern New York State southward.  We have a few visit us in summer but it is not a common hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
 Another hawk that sometimes visits feeder yards in winter in New Brunswick is the Cooper's Hawk. The Cooper's is much like the Sharp-shinned but is larger.  It can be difficult to tell from the Sharp-shinned so look closely if you have a small, fast hawk fly through your yard!  Generally the Cooper's is bigger than the Sharpie, has a more well-defined cap and has a rounded tail.  Size is a difficult determinant.  A large female Sharpie can be as big as a small male Cooper's.  See the photo below to see the difference in the two species.

Hawks in winter are interesting to watch.  They do take the occasional bird  but they need to survive the winter, too.  They are part of the balance of nature.

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