Lathrop’s Intrepid, Fierce, Scrappy, Sexy, Patient, Nurturing Hawks

by Barbara Walvoord

We often see hawks at Lathrop these days, circling overhead or perched on tree branches. Here is a red-tailed hawk at Lathrop:

Hawk at Lathrop. Photo by Barbara Walvoord
Hawk at Lathrop. Photo by Barbara Walvoord

Huckleberry Lane residents have also seen our red-shouldered hawk couple (Buteo lineatus), which is nesting in the trees behind our houses. Red-shouldered hawks prefer deciduous forest near wetlands and streams–that would be Lathrop.

We hear, too, their distinctive kee-rah. You can hear it at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-shouldered_Hawk/id. The calls are often mimicked by blue jays.

Hawks are intrepid travelers. Like some of Lathrop’s human residents, they head south in winter, flying as far as Mexico, on the do-it-yourself plan with “U.S. Airways.” They’ll often return to the same nesting site, so this is probably the same pair that were here last year.

These hawks are fierce, creative hunters. They will swoop down on another bird by surprise like a literal bolt from the blue. They perch on tree branches and will shoot down onto a field mouse or snake. They will sit on the ground and snatch prey as it emerges from its burrow. They will pluck a fish from a pond.

Hawks are scrappy. We often see American crows in a chase with hawks, as they try to steal food from each other. Crows and hawks sometime join forces to bombard Great Horned owls.

Hawks are energetically sexy, too. Earlier this spring, our hawk couple will have courted in a unique sky dance. The male rides a thermal upward, crying as it circles, and then dropping steeply with folded wings, pulling up, and shooting upward again. Neighboring pairs often join in, with as many as ten birds involved. The sky dance is fore-play, followed immediately by copulation, over and over again for an extended period of time.

Whew. Okay, so now we need a nest. Humans may call their buildings “stick-built,” but hawks really do, and without hammers or saws. Our red-shouldered pair will have built a stick nest in the crotch of a tree. Mom will have laid 2-4 eggs. For weeks, she patiently does most of the baby-SITTING, while the male brings her food. By now, the young have hatched, so the parents are bringing in the snakes and mice as fast as they can. See a video cam mounted by a hawk’s nest at

Parenting goes on. Youngsters of all species, including ours, sometimes need continuing support after leaving the nest, and hawks are no exception. So when, in May or June, the kids leave home, they don’t go far, and the nurturing parents will continue to feed them for up to ten more weeks.

Red-shouldered hawks are considered a species of special concern in many states. Woodland fragmentation is making it harder for them. Our many acres of forests and streams are a critical habitat for these intrepid, fierce scrappy, sexy, patient, and nurturing raptors.

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