Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hawks surprising people all over

My sister Ruth called a couple of weeks ago about a big hawk that appeared suddenly in their suburban Atlanta yard. She's not a card-carrying member of the bird watching community, and neither is my brother-in-law Bob, but both are observant. They'd never seen anything like this. Bob emailed me photos of what appears a young Red-tailed Hawk.

I didn't think much more about this until two days ago, when Rose Ann Barnhill called. "There's three Plumbeous Kites right here!" One looked like a juvenile. Rosie is out every working day in central Fayetteville's Wilson Park. She wouldn't have missed any kind of kite if present all summer. As a UA grad student, she studied the birds of Belize for two years. Naturally enough, common Tropical birds appear unannounced in her conversation. She immediately corrected Plumbeous to Mississippi Kite.

Then I had an email from Judith Griffith at Ninestone Land Trust in Carroll County. She's just seen three Broad-winged Hawks . . . She walks the place every day. Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks are regulars, but not broad-wings.
Finally, Joan Reynolds and I birded the state fish hatchery at Centerton last Wednesday. Of shorebirds there were Killdeers (41+), Least Sandpiper (5), and Lesser Yellowlegs (1). Relatively speaking, hawks were sparse, but there was a constant raspy WHEEEE! WHEEEE! Imitated expertly by local jays, this proved impatient, fledgling Red-tailed Hawks.

In sum, this is suddenly hawks season on our avian calendar. They appear in places where earlier they weren't. If instead of hawks it was a sudden appearance of a Bald Eagle, the change would be obvious. They wouldn't just go previously unobserved. 

My assumption is these sudden hawks probably nested nearby. Taking into account nest building, egg laying, incubation (around 30 days) and young in the nest (around 45 days), red-tails have been in the same locale for at least three months.

During this period, "low hanging fruit" -- that is, easily caught opossum roadkill, bunnies, rats, and snakes -- must become relatively exhausted. So it's off to the new world, to fresh territory, where food is plentiful, the livin' easy. Maybe a backyard, where all of a sudden . . . hungry hawks assess your prized Chihuahua (just kidding).

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