Friday, March 4, 2011

Red Shouldered Hawk

Bob and Ruby Ball are genetically programed birders in addition to his professional photography.  They shared this story about their backyard hawk sighting.
RS Hawk with Mole (Bob Ball)
"We returned home after a birding outing yesterday and found no birds in our backyard.  Ruby quickly discovered a large hawk, which we first thought was a Coopers.  A few birds gradually began to move back into the yard.
We couldn't understand why the hawk didn't attack.  Suddenly, it flew to the ground and came up on our back fence with a MOLE in it's talons.  I can't begin to describe Ruby's jubilation!  She has been working on getting rid of those moles for several years and hasn't found a good solution.  She's hoping the Red-shouldered Hawk will come back soon.  It is a life bird for our back yard list."

While uncommon on the open plains to the north and west, we see Red-shouldered Hawks commonly along Bull Creek.  They prefer wooded streams and rivers, leaving the open fields and prairies to their commonly seen Red-tailed cousins.  Their "Red shoulders" are very hard to see while their banded tail is prominent in flight.  (See picture)

They have a distinctive call, repeating "Ker-yah" insistently at two to three second intervals as they circle in the sky (hear it here).  The Blue Jay has learned to mimic this call, scaring birds off their nest so it can fly in and feast on the abandoned eggs.

Red-shouldered hawk nest
You are more likely to see the Red-shouldered flush from a tree limb perch in the forest.  Their distribution follows their prefered habitat, extending from Missouri on to the East as well as along the West Coast, avoiding the Great Plains.

They either hunt from a perch or circle high in the sky, then folding their wings back to rocket to earth, spreading their wings at the last second as they nail their prey with their claws, a behavior called "stooping".

Red-shouldered Hawks are known to over-winter in the Ozarks along our streams.  Several years ago we had a pair build a nest along Red Bridge Road where we could monitor it all spring until the little fuzzy headed chicks finally fletched.  They hung out in our woods all summer like teenagers with a Nintendo before finally taking off to get their own apartments.

Red-shouldered chicks
Ruby's hawk perched on a low fence was both unusual and a highly successful strategy for a mole feast.  I am planning on building a perch in our mole infested front yard to recruit her hawk - sorry Ruby.

More at Wikipedia.

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