The Red-Tailed Hawk
Strange how things work out- I had casually mentioned earlier that I intended on visiting the park to check on the colors and in the interim feed the squirrels, which happens to be one of my favorite pastimes.
“The squirrels are quite large in this country,” he remarked thoughtfully, “back in Malaysia, they are quite small, more like mice.”
“Perhaps they are well fed here.” I responded. “They are after all such delightful creatures. The trees are loaded with seeds and acorns at this time of year however people still spoil them with peanuts just to see them eat- Its part and parcel of a park experience.”
Later that afternoon I was off to High Park doing what I liked best: taking a long walk, observing nature and feeding the ducks, animals and birds. As the trees had not yet changed color, I’d armed myself with the standby camera that was not cumbersome.
Chance, however, had other plans for me for I soon stumbled upon a magnificent bird feeding high up in a tree.
In all my dreams I never thought that he was feeding on a squirrel. That realization came much later, when I was drawn to that haunting, sorrowful and anguished cry emanating from a large bush a little ways down the path. Thinking that it was some wounded bird or animal needing assistance, I lingered at the spot, my eyes searching the bush.
Oh, another surprise… It was a squirrel… A squirrel?
I’ve never heard them uttering any sound let along one so gut wrenching. My mind however made a quick sense of this and I nodded, for the sequence of events was now complete. My peace was the resulting casualty. I walked away feeling saddened yet awed at the same time.
Guided by the photographs, for I’ve never set eyes on a Red-tailed Hawk before, my quick research at home produced these results:
The red-tailed hawk is a member of the genus Buteo, a group of medium-sized raptors with robust bodies and broad wings. It typically weighs from 1.52 to 3.53 lb and measures 45–65 cm in length, with a wingspan from 110–145 cm. The females averaging about 25% is heavier than males. Members of this genus are known as buzzards in Europe, but hawks in North America where they are legally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
In flight, this hawk soars with wings often in a slight dihedral, flapping as little as possible to conserve energy. Active flight is slow and deliberate, with deep wing beats. In wind, it occasionally hovers on beating wings and remains stationary above the ground. When soaring or flapping its wings, it typically travels from 32 to 64 km/h (40 mph), but when diving may exceed 190 km/h (120 mph).
The cry of the red-tailed hawk is a two to three second hoarse, rasping scream, described as ‘kree-eee-ar’ that begins at a high pitch and slurs downward. The red-tailed hawk frequently vocalizes while hunting or soaring, but vocalizes loudest in annoyance or anger, in response to a predator or a rival hawk’s intrusion into its territory.
Red-tailed hawk plumage can be variable, depending on the subspecies and the region. These color variations are morphs, and are not related to molting.
Though the markings and hue vary across the subspecies, the basic appearance of the red-tailed hawk is consistent. Overall, this species is blocky and broad in shape, often appearing (and being) heavier than other Buteos of similar length. A whitish underbelly with a dark brown band across the belly, formed by horizontal streaks in feather patterning, is present in most color variations. The underside may be otherwise covered with dark brown spotting, especially in younger birds. The red tail, which gives this species its name, is uniformly brick-red above and light buff-orange below. The bill is short and dark, in the hooked shape characteristic of raptors, and the head can sometimes appear small in size against the thick body frame. They have a relatively short, broad tails and thick, chunky wings. The cere, the legs, and the feet of the red-tailed hawk are all yellow.
Immature birds can be readily identified at close range by their yellowish irises. As the bird attains full maturity over the course of 3–4 years, the iris slowly darkens into a reddish-brown hue. In both the light and dark morphs, the tail of the immature red-tailed hawk is patterned with numerous darker bars.
The red-tailed hawk occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes throughout most of North America, including deserts, grasslands, coniferous and deciduous forests, tropical rainforests, agricultural fields and urban areas. Unlike some other raptors, the red-tailed hawk is seemingly unfazed by considerable human activity and can nest and live in close proximity to large numbers of humans. Thus the species can also be found in cities and metropolitan parks where there are abundant prey such as rock pigeons and rodents that may support their populations. They are, after all, a most capable bird of prey as well as an opportunistic feeder. Their diet includes small mammals, mice, gophers, voles, chipmunks, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, birds, lagomorphs, shrews, bats, pigeons, quail, corvids, waterfowl, other raptors, reptiles, fish, crustaceans, insects and even the lowly earthworm.
The red-tailed hawk usually employs one of two hunting techniques. Often, they scan for prey activity from an elevated perch site, swooping down to seize the prey. They also watch for prey while flying, either capturing a bird in flight or pursuing ground prey until they can pin them down in their talons. Interestingly, Red-tailed hawks, like some other raptors, have been observed to hunt in pairs. The corroborative effort may consist of them stalking on opposite sides of a tree, in order to surround a tree squirrel and flush the rodent out for capture.
The red-tailed hawk reaches sexual maturity at two years of age. It is monogamous, mating with the same individual for many years. In general, the red-tailed hawk will only take a new mate when its original mate dies. The same nesting territory may be defended by the pair for years. During courtship, the male and female fly in wide circles while uttering shrill cries. The male performs aerial displays, diving steeply, and then climbing again. After repeating this display several times, he sometimes grasps her talons briefly with his own. Courtship flights can last 10 minutes or more. Copulation often follows courtship flight sequences, although copulation (that lasts 5 to 10 seconds and during pre-nesting courtship in late winter or early spring) frequently occurs in the absence of courtship flights. The nest is usually constructed of twigs, and lined with bark, pine needles, corn cobs, husks, stalks, aspen catkins, or other plant matter.
Being a large predator, most predication of these hawks occurs with the eggs and nestlings, which are taken by owls, corvids and raccoons. Great horned owls compete with the red-tailed hawk for nest sites. Each species has been known to kill the young and destroy the eggs of the other, but in general, both species nest in adjacent or congruent territories without conflict. Eggs are laid approximately every other day. A clutch of 1 to 3 eggs is laid in March or April, depending upon latitude. Clutch size depends almost exclusively on the availability of prey for the adults. They are incubated primarily by the female, with the male substituting when the female leaves to hunt or merely stretch her wings. The female broods them while the male provides most of the food to the female and the young.
The fledgling period follows, with short flights engaged in, after another 3 weeks. About 6 to 7 weeks after fledgling, the young begin to capture their own prey. Shortly thereafter, when the young are around 4 months of age, they become independent of their parents. However, the hawks do not generally reach breeding maturity until they are around 3 years of age.
The supernatural significance (the omen) of seeing a hawk varies across the continents. In European culture for instance it foretells caution:
Therefore, the sight of a hawk counsels the observer to be on his/her guard against others who are more powerful then them. If the bird is hovering on the left-hand side or, worse still, directly overhead, the gravest possible danger is to be feared from cruel and grasping people.
In the North American Indian culture the Hawk holds a different meaning:
“In the traditions of some Native Americans, the hawk is a messenger of God. Its appearance is a blessing, for it alerts an individual to go to the spiritual mountain and employ the gift of godlike vision.
“A hawk is a good spiritual omen. According to Native American legend, the hawk’s cry –- a shrill whistle –- is to pierce the awareness and awaken people to a state of full awareness. The whistle of a hawk is like the cry of a prophet.
“So the symbol of a hawk is about having a clear spiritual vision.
“The sharp whistle of a hawk is one of the best images to appear in your spiritual life, for it holds out an offer of love, wisdom, and spiritual freedom.”
‘Spirituality and ME/CFS’ started by Wayne, Apr 17, 2010.
As it is, for the North American Indians the feathers of the Red-tailed Hawk were always considered sacred and, like the feathers of the Eagle, were and still are, usually used in religious ceremonies and rituals.
Here’s an old fable concerning the Red-tailed Hawk:
Legend of Tlanuwa and the Uktena
In this Legend of The Tlanuwa and The Uktena, a village of the Ani Yunwiya (the Cherokee people) rested near a place called Hogahega Uweyu i along the Wanegas, known today as the Tennessee River. The caves at this place were an ancient home of the Tlanuwa.
The people in the village never had problems with the Tlanuwa before, until one day the great hawks came and carried away most of the young children. The grieving mothers pleaded with the men to bring back the children stolen by the Tlanuwa.
So the men went to the Tlanuwa caves. They made ropes from vines growing nearby, in order to climb down the cliffs to reach the caves. First they waited for the great hawks to leave and when the coast was clear, they lowered themselves into the caves and found the missing children. Just then however, they heard more Tlanuwa returning with more children in their grasp. In order to buy time and distract the great hawks, the men quickly threw the unhatched eggs of the Tlanuwa over the cliffs into the water below. When the eggs hit the water, the great Uktena, horned serpents, came up from below the water and began eating the eggs as quickly as the men were throwing them.
The Tlanuwa, very angry, dropped the children from their talons to the waiting men below. A long and terrible fight ensued between the Tlanuwa and Uktena. The Tlanuwa destroyed the Uktena into four pieces and scattered its remains across the country.
After the terrible fight, the Tlanuwa still angry with the men for what they had done to their eggs flew far, far away beyond the sky, never to return.
Today, it is still said that on the banks of the Hogahega Uweyu i, one can still see the rocks that were stained from the blood of the Uktena and Tlanuwa from that terrible fight they had in ancient times.