Monday, December 01, 2008

Red-tailed Hawk Winter Hunt

December 1st...
Winter settled in long before the solstice this year. Today is the first "snow day" for children who take a school bus as we had a heavy snowfall overnight. My husband spent an hour before he left for work at 6:30 am clearing our driveway and sidewalks with the snowblower. I am very thankful for him!

Over the weekend we did have some sunshine and I drove to the nearby landfill site which is being transformed into a park. This summer the city graded the big hill which has been popular with sledders for many years. They added a parking lot, benches and new fencing to keep children from sliding on the roadway. It was a nice place to enjoy the sunshine and get some fresh air.

I watched as a large hawk flew back and forth hunting for prey on the snow covered ground. A pair of Red-tailed hawks have staked this territory and are commonly seen in the neighbourhood. I have seen them in the air and on tree branches, but never on the ground. I followed the hunter with my binoculars and watched as it caught a mouse in a small area that was not snow covered.

It cannot be easy for large birds of prey to survive our winters. I saw a Coopers hawk over our bird feeders yesterday and would not chase it away if it targeted a meal in my yard. Our resident red squirrel alerted me the to hawk's presence as it squealed loudly and ran under the fence. Nature has its own checks and balances as the most vigilant and healthy creatures are less likely to be the target of a predator's attack. The hawk can have as many house sparrows as it wants, but I know it will not be selective by species.

How easy it is for us to forget what survival means as we spend the winter in heated homes and drive to the supermarket for food.


  1. The truth in nature often distorts my thoughts in sympathy for the prey but your reality presented in this post is an important truth for the balance of nature is to be respected and for all players this is survival game where each player follows its appointed role. Your photos and closeups of the Hawk are lovely. It is a beauty.

    When a teacher I used to love snow days; but not so much now that I am retired. Our area started out with freezing rain this morning and the predicted high for later in the day is +11 C! So far we are having a very mild winter.

    Thank you for your comments on my Squirrel thoughts.

  2. You have helped to put it in perspective for me. I have seen a hawk at my feeders once and he didn't stay long. I often wonder what I would do if I saw one. I wouldn't scare it away but I would pray that he took a House Sparrow and not my beloeved songbirds.

    I love your pictures. The one of the hawk is great. My son lives for snow days. I am happy that we have not had any yet!

  3. How great you saw this hawk feeding on the ground. How true we have forgotten what it's like to survive out in the weather from minute to minute.

  4. Great photographs. You are doing some great birding from the car. Very thought-provoking post. It is a hard life out there.

  5. Wow, a snow day.As a school bus driver I too look forward to these days. Your thoughts on the hawk feeding at the feeders is so true,all they want is to stay alive.

  6. Dear Ruth....I love the hawks....and they are welcome in my garden to....they need food as we all do.

    Lovely photographs especially with the backdrop of the snow.......

  7. Your post is beautiful. Survival in the winter is hard on all of the birds, but I do chase hawks away from the feeders when I can. I hate to find feathers under the feeders, especially cardinal feathers. We do have a large number of hawks, but I think they can survive just fine by hunting in the pastures and corn fields - we haven't even had a ground-covering snow yet. I don't blame them for looking for easy pickins, but I don't put out the welcome mat either - no matter how beautiful they are.

  8. Very scenic action shots of the Red-tailed Hawk in the snow.
    -It's a constant fight for survival for those mighty birds of prey.Fortunately, the Red-tailed Hawks are doing very well. We would miss them if they were no more.

  9. Ann- Thanks. I saw on the news how mild your temperatures are. We are in for more snow every day this week. I'm sure your big snowfall will happen soon ;-)

    Kim- I bet your son wishes he had a snow day, but they are a hardship for working parents.There is never a snow day for the hospital.

    NW- Seeing the hawk was the highlight of my day, and so unexpected.

    NCMW- Yes I am still birding from the car, but hope to get walking more soon. It has been so snowy and icy that I have been afraid to hit the trails with crutches.

    Ruth- Yes, a snow day is good for a bus driver, but I am sure you don't get paid for them.

    Cheryl- I wonder what the hawks think of Ratty?!

    Kathleen- I will be the devil's good humour of course... If the hawks can survive in the meadows and fields, so can the songbirds, especially if there is no snow. I don't think we can choose to offer fast food to some birds and not to others. There are lots of seeds and berries around naturally but the birds come to our feeders for convenience...and so do the hawks.

  10. Larry- Your comment came as I was writing mine...It took quite a while for the hawk to find food. I don't know if a mouse is a day's ration or if it needs several "mice" sized portions a day. It will not get easier. We have had a lot more snow since Saturday.

  11. Yikes - a snow day already! And it's not even winter yet (as you mentioned with reference to the solstice)

    Nice pics of the hawk. Lucky you were able to take his pic on the ground. He (or she) didn't fly away.

    I could never survive these harsh winters. I'd have to fly south like the birds. But I often think of our ancestors, sitting around a fire on the cold earth in winter. Must have been bone-chilling!!

  12. Great photos! I feel for all the creatures here with our harsh winters. The strong survive, as nature intended.

    I agree that any bird who happens on our winter handouts should be welcomed. I really, really hope, however, that a moose doesn't happen upon my hay shed!

  13. Anonymous9:41 pm GMT-5

    The Coopers and Sharpies come into my yard and I used to chase them and now I understand that it is the way nature intended. I do wish they liked house sparrows, but they don't seem to...Nice catch on the beautiful red-tail...

  14. Wendy- Look how many Canadians cannot take our winters today, even with comfortable heated homes. Hello Florida and Arizona.

    Karen- If a moose does happen in your shed, you must get a picture. That takes sharing to a new level for sure.

    RW- My nature quote that came up today was "Mother Nature is not sweet." How true. Last winter I had feeders at the hospital and we watched a Cooper's Hawk make a daily kill. (The guys liked that!)But during spring migration, far more birds died in window strikes than were killed by the hawk all winter. Who is the biggest predator?

  15. Really good photos of the hawk, Ruth. I suppose the hawks would move on if they cannot provide enough food for themselves in that landfill area.

  16. Anonymous6:40 am GMT-5

    Ruth, what great photos of hawk against the snow. I always hate to see a hawk land in my willow trees, but I know it is nature's way, and I let it be.

  17. Amen! That photo of the hawk on the ground against the snow is simply beautiful! It tells the whole story of winter survival.

  18. And this is exactly why I work with birds of prey.
    I have the ultimate respect for birds who have to chase and kill their food every single day.
    Aren't too many humans who could do that, are there? (At least in obese, over-fed North America)

    I deal with the "sympathy" card all the time. Kids (mostly little girls) say,'awwww...' when I talk about the food items that birds of prey go for. I remind them that humans are predators, too. And Nature made lots of LITTLE things to feed the BIG things.

    Great pictures!

  19. Very nice images of that hawk. I hadn't really thought much about birds of prey and snow, but somehow they must find enough to eat, even with most menu items hidden beneath all that white.

  20. Mary C- Many hawks migrate south, and I don't know if this is our summer hawk or one from further north. I think it is a little late for a journey across Lake Erie.

    Kathie-Thanks... I think I like your desert better than this snow. And the hawk likely would too.

    Jan- At least hawks eat their prey. We have had neighbourhood cats who were far more of a menace at the feeders, just for the sake of killing.

    Susan- Thanks for your comments. Your expert viewpoint is appreciated.

    Zhakee- We will likely have snow cover until the end of March... four more months of challenge.

  21. Oh Ruth, that's so cool you got those excellent pictures of the red-tailed hawkon the ground eating. Thanks for sharing them with us.


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