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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Appreciating the Red-tailed Hawk

We see Red-tailed Hawks almost daily because they prefer deserts and agricultural areas, in both of which we live.  They are easy to confuse with Common Ravens when they are silhouettes soaring above, but if you can get a good look at the shape of the wings, you can tell the difference.  This website has good pictures of both that will show you the difference.

I get a kick out of these raptors because they are actually very goofy.  Not only do they look goofy when they sit on street lights like pigeons, they like to yell at people in whose yards they are trying to hunt.  My parents had a juvenile that sat in their trees screaming at anyone who came outside, usually in the morning.  As it got older, it would squawk at us while waiting for bunnies and mice to put down their guard.  We were even lucky enough to see it dive for a mouse 20 feet from us, catch the mouse and then, lucky for the mouse, drop the uninjured mouse from its talons.

The monogamous Red-tailed Hawk may breed for life.  The last link below talks a lot about their courting and breeding.  Mating season is in the spring, so I'll try to keep my eyes open in a few months and see if I can catch any images of their dance.

Fun trivia: When you hear a raptor's cry on television, regardless of which bird is depicted, the call is usually that of a Red-tailed Hawk.

The first picture you saw in my post about the Baylands.  The second was also taken at the Baylands and represents well how I usually see these birds: sitting and waiting.  The others I took at Veterans Oasis Park, about which I will post another day.  One flew not ten feet above my head, but my silly camera wouldn't focus, so I missed the shot.  Still, we could see every feather.  It was really cool.  Below the pictures I've included some links if you'd like to learn more about this wonderful bird and see some great photos.

Update: These last three pictures have been called into question because they look like a Turkey Vulture.  While I admit they do, I also admit to a great deal of confusion.  At first glance in person, these birds looked different than Red-tailed Hawks, but I honestly couldn't see them well because of the sun.  The sun was above them, and every bird that flew over me, including the White-winged Dove, looked like a black silhouette.  The reason I concluded this particular bird was a Red-tailed Hawk was because he did a fly by.  He is the one who flew right over my head and was most definitely a Red-tailed Hawk.  Now, I have done some research into Turkey Vultures, and these pictures do appear to be of a Turkey Vulture.  So I will say this: if this is a Turkey Vulture, he and the hawk are masters of illusion.  My eyes never left this bird as he circled and eventually flew over my head.  So take it however you want.  It may be a tricky Turkey Vulture; it may be a poorly-lit Red-tailed Hawk.  This birding business is all about learning more about God's winged creations, anyway, right?



  1. you are so lucky to see them often. :) I don´t where I live. Nice shots. :)

    mine is on my Travel blog.

  2. Hi Katie, nice post! It's fun to learn about birds, isn't it? You can tell the last three pictures are of a Turkey Vulture from the dark vs. light pattern on the wings. You can see it very exaggerated in this picture: http://www.photomigrations.com/articles/images/0404502.jpg. I'm not sure where you live but if there is a Hawk Watch close to where you are, it's a great way to learn raptor ID. :) http://www.hmana.org/sitesel.php

  3. Amy, those turkey vultures have ticked me off! :o) I swear my eyes never left that bird before he did his fly by. But, there were two birds circling, and I was looking through my camera, so I suppose they could've done a switcheroo at that point. Plus, as my dear friend pointed out (she's also the one who called the pictures out in the first place), it just takes one child to do one thing, and then next thing I know, I'm distracted. Almost every article I've read on either the turkey vulture or the red-tailed hawk mention that they are often confused in the air. Of course, I didn't catch on to that BEFORE this post. Eh, well... Honestly, I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about the vultures. We have Boyce Thompson Aroboretum (http://arboretum.ag.arizona.edu/) out here, and they have hello and goodbye celebrations for the vultures who roost there each year. It would be nice to attend one of those, even more so if I'm educated!

  4. NatureFootstep, love your pictures! I have one of an American kestrel identical to yours of the common kestrel.

    I feel very lucky to have so many neat birds here. When I first started birding as a child, my grandparents taught me all about the rare birds we could spot in northern Arizona and the birds that are unique to our area. That alone taught me an appreciation for every bird I see, even if it is a common bird. As ticked as I was at the turkey vulture for deceiving me (and really, I should be just as ticked at the hawk that took its place), it was the first time I knew for sure I'd seen a turkey vulture, so how mad could I really be? ;o)