Saturday, March 5, 2011

Red-Tailed Hawk

Several weeks ago, Mr. Johnson found this dead Red-Tailed Hawk alongside the road on one of his daily walks. After I got home from work, he drove me out there so I could look at it to give a positive ID and see if I could figure out how it died.

I really like Red-Tailed Hawks and I was fascinated to be able to hold and observe this bird up close, although it was also very sad because the world has now lost another of these beautiful raptors.

Because of the dark streaking across the belly and absence of the red coloring on the underside of the tail feathers, I'm going to say this was a first year bird. There were no obvious signs of any trauma that might have contributed to this bird's death. I did notice that it smelled a bit like a skunk -- not strongly, but the aroma was definitely there. Do Red-Tailed Hawks eat skunks? Could it have eaten a skunk that someone had poisoned? I guess we'll never know....

Look at that sharp, hooked beak! Perfect for tearing apart a tasty mouse or some other small mammal.

Here's another look at it without my fat fingers in the way. I'm always amazed at how large their eyes are too. (Addendum: I neglected to say in the original post that when we brought this bird home you could see that its eyes were yellow - it's been wrapped up in a bag and frozen outside for about 5 weeks and the eyes have gone dark now.) Seeing them up close helps you understand how they have such excellent vision to spot a tiny mouse on the ground from the top of a utility pole or tree branch.
Here's a close-up look at the tail that gives this bird its name. Such pretty plumage.......

Look at these talons! I couldn't believe how long and sharp they were!

Here's another look at it with my finger for comparison. Their feet are really huge. Last summer I was lucky enough to spot a Red-Tailed Hawk on the ground that was in the process of catching a snake. I was able to pull over and watch the hawk dance around on the snake until it was able to grasp the snake securely with its feet and talons and then fly away with the snake. I guessed the snake to be about 2-3 feet long. It was a sight I'll never forget. After seeing this hawk's feet up close, it helped me appreciate more how they're able to capture and subdue their prey.

The bird was still frozen, but I was able to stretch its wing out a little bit. My Sibley guide says they have a wingspan of 49 inches. It's hard to tell from here, but when you see them soaring in the sky, you can definitely appreciate their size and beauty.

If this hawk hadn't smelled of skunk, I would have been sorely tempted to do something illegal with it (like wrap it up and store it in the back of my deep freeze). But instead, I wrapped it up in a brown bag and laid it to rest far underneath one of the large evergreen trees in my backyard, where it will eventually return back to the earth.


Mama Pea said...

Wow. Thanks for a closer look at a red-tailed hawk than I'll probably ever get!

Gaelyn said...

It is sad to loose this powerful raptor. Yet you were given a gift to better understand the hawk's magnificence. Think of the pressure they can exert with those feet and talons. I totally understand your desire to do the illegal thing, probably good that it smelled of skunk. Thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing raptor find. To see it up close like that would never happen. You happened to be just in the right spot at the right time thanks to Mr. Johnson. To see that beak and the talons almost gives me the shivers. I would not like to be attacked by one, but I'm sure death would be quick. Thanks for sharing.


RuthieJ said...

Thanks Mama Pea. It was neat to see it up close, but I'd still rather see it alive than dead.

Hi Gaelyn, I was really surprised to see how long & sharp the talons were. And that beak was so sharp. That's what makes raptors so special.

Hi Mom, I bet the next time you see a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on top of a utility pole, you will think of this blog post.

Dave Dorsey said...

I'm glad you did the right thing and buried it. That is a beautiful bird. Most raptors die in their first year due to inexperience.

troutbirder said...

I know I'm a softy in some ways, so its the pic of the eye that got me. Alive... a fierce glowing red burning light staring deeply from the raptors heart. Dead... black ice crystals

RuthieJ said...

Thanks Dave, me too! I'm just glad I didn't find that someone had shot it or something like that.

I'm a softy too Ray. Even though it seems like we see plenty of them around here, it's still hard to find one dead.

dAwN said...

Howdee Ruthie..thanks for sharing this! Its cool to see the perpective when you are holding the foot..and spreading out the wing..
Very cool..
Though very dead :(

Jane said...

I think this is the culprit that eats my Guinea's in the spring. I have at least one breeding pair that nests on my property. They are well built killing machines. So interesting to see it up close since mostly I just see the aftermath. Thanks for the pics.

Beyond My Garden said...

This is a beautiful study but yes, it is so sad to lose a Red-tailed hawk. I'm surprised it lasted 5 weeks without being destroyed by scavengers. Maybe that says something about how it died (poison) or maybe the skunk smell kept scavengers away.

RuthieJ said...

You're welcome Dawn. It IS bittersweet....the only way to see a beautiful raptor up close like this is when it's dead. The same thing happened years ago (before I was blogger) when I found a dead Great Gray Owl.

Oh Jane, I'm sorry to hear you're losing your guineas to a predator. I think there's a nesting pair of Red-Tailed Hawks in our neighborhood, I hope this dead one I found isn't part of that pair.

I didn't make this clear in the post, but from the time I found it until I finally took the photos, this hawk was wrapped up in a plastic bag on my front porch, so very safe from any predators there!

Meggie said...

What a beautiful creature! Thanks for the up close look, Ruthie.