by Barbara Walvoord
(First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, October 29, 2016)
A few days ago, I saw a red-tail hawk (Buteo Jamaicensis) on the move: it dove for a songbird that was on the ground–and missed. The little bird shot away to the side, while the hawk pulled up like a plane whose landing is suddenly aborted.
Hawks have to be on the move to eat. Red tails circle or perch, then dive onto their prey with talons outstretched. Two hawks sometimes collaborate to catch a squirrel: one hawk swoops down on one side of the tree, and, when the squirrel scoots over to the other side of the tree, the other hawk swoops down and snatches it.The red tail is on the move across the country: it has extended it range into many areas of the U.S., profiting from its ability to hunt in forests, fields, or shrubland, to eat birds, snakes, rodents, and even carrion, to locate its prey either by riding the air currents or by perching on trees or telephone poles, and to do so in the midst of human habitation.
Red tail hawks are in the movies. Their shrill scream is the sound track nearly every time any hawk or eagle appears in a film, no matter what the species.
Red-tails are on the move when courting. They soar in wide circles at a great height. The male dives steeply, then shoots up again at an angle nearly as steep. After several of these swoops he approaches the female from above, extends his legs, and touches her briefly. Sometimes, the pair grab onto one other, clasp talons, and plummet in spirals toward the ground before pulling away.
But our own Lathrop red tails are not on the move for the winter. Those who have summered in Alaska will move down to our area or even farther south, but those native to our area will likely stay put. So all winter long, we can look forward to hearing their haunting screams, watch them circling over our homes and fields, and maybe even catch one swooping down for a bird, a mouse, or a squirrel.