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Birds of Prey

June 25, 2013

Credit: Catherine Boeckmann
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Wonder what's soaring in the sky? It may be a bird of prey.

I had the opportunity to see four live birds of prey at a presentation by the Indiana Raptor Center and thought I’d share the experience with you.

First, it’s important to know what is meant by “bird of prey.” These predatory birds kill their food—with their feet!

At the end of their toes are talons—needle-sharp claws used to catch and kill prey. There is a channel down the back of each talon to help their prey bleed out. This may sound extreme, but every animal has to eat, and this channel helps the prey die quickly!

1. American Kestrel (above)

The smallest of falcons, kestrels are master mousers. Interestingly, they can hover in place to lock down on their prey. They eat cicadas, too! They are very fast flyers but small. To avoid being eaten by larger birds of prey, they have a false face with eyes on the back of their head.


Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyhartshorn/496158295/

2. Eastern Screech-Owl (above)
A nighttime hunter, this small, stocky owl can fly silently thanks to the ruffled edges on the outside of its wings, which create air pockets and muffle noise, allowing it to swoop down on mice unaware. They can not see color, which is irrelevant at night anyway, and they have hearing that is 100 times better than humans' to guide their flight. The little "ear tufts" on top of their head are NOT actually ears; naturalists believe that the tufts help to camouflage their round heads since few shapes in nature are circles. At night, they do not hoot! They make a tremolo or trill that you have probably heard but mistaken for an insect. Hear the screech-owl's trilling sound!

3. Harris's Hawk (above)

From the desert Southwest, the beautiful hawk in the above photo was injured and living at the raptor center. She was making a happy "purring" sound while sitting on the arm of her handler. The Harris's hawks are unusual in that they hunt cooperatively in packs. The babies stay with the mother for a year and help to foster the new round of babies. These hawks will also "stack" or stand on top of each other to spot prey as a way of conserving energy.

4. Red-tailed Hawk (above)
This huge hawk weighs about 2.4 pounds, with a wingspan of 49 inches. Their strong talons ratchet down on their prey, exerting powerful pressure—300 to 400 psi.

The Red-tailed hawk is very common across North America and is sometimes referred to as the "chickenhawk" because it has a reputation of attacking chicken coops; however, this behavior is grossly overstated. Only desperately hungry or young, inexperienced hunters will kill chickens or other domestic animals.

Red-tailed hawks’ natural diet consists of rats, rabbits, and snakes. They are super-duper rodent killers that patrol large open fields; they work very hard for us every day, curbing rodent damage to our crops and property and combatting the spread of diseases. In fact, their role in the food chain is so valued that killing a bird of prey can result in a $100,000 fine and 10 years in jail.

Many bird of prey problems can be eliminated by simply housing poultry at night.  If the problem persists, use netting or poultry wire. Here is more information.

How Birds of Prey Benefit Us

Just imagine: One rat can cause $14 of damage to a crop in a year. One pair of red-tailed hawks can dispatch 400 rats during a season. By preserving a few large trees, a farmer can encourage hawks to nest on his property, potentially preventing $5,600 in damage.

I am certainly thankful for any bird that helps to control the world’s rodent population!


Which types of birds of prey have you spotted in your area? Please share your experiences, stories, and comments below.

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Catherine, our New Media Editor, joined The Old Farmer's Almanac in 2008. She edits content on both this Web site, Almanac.com, and the companion site to The Old Farmer's Almanac for Kids publication, Almanac4kids.com. She also pens the Almanac Companion enewsletters and keeps up with readers on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

Comments

I live in Portland, OR and we

By Kat Majors

I live in Portland, OR and we have a Red-Tail Hawk nest within a couple blocks of our house. She eats her meals in the top of the tree next door - in addition to rodents, our Hawks also dine on Pigeons (Rock Doves) since they are so plentiful. You can quite often see them perched on the light poles along the freeway, or being harassed by the Crows in the sky. There is an island in the river that bisects our downtown, and it has had Bald Eagle nests for quite a few years now. I've also seen a Peregrine Falcon, both in our neighborhood and downtown, and of course because of all the rivers, we have lots of Osprey. There are lots of all kinds of Owls in the area, but not usually around the city.

From Gladys VA, we see

By Donna D

From Gladys VA, we see several variety's of birds of prey ranging from the owls, hawks, kestrel, and I am sure others. No eagles as yet though. Mostly in our area barn owls are prevalent. Not as dramatic but certainly a useful creature for keeping the rodent population at bay.

Yesterday, while out walking

By kenneth whitfield

Yesterday, while out walking my dog, I saw two hawks/ospreys/? gliding low over my neighborhood. I first saw the birds a couple of weeks ago on a beautiful, cool, cloudless morning. On that day, against the clear, deep blue sky they glided in circles and soared on updrafts. I was certain they were watching me even as I marveled at them. Yesterday was overcast and cool and the two were circling at much lower altitude. Very much closer. Again, I stopped and watched them as with hardly a wing beat they glided and circled. I stood mesmerized as one of them folded his/her wings and in an instant dove straight at us. Instinctively, I moved to put my dog behind me as the beautiful bird pulled out of the dive two feet off the ground and thirty feet away from us. It was quite an experience and it happened in the blink of an eye.

We live in Southern Oregon

By Luanna Neal

We live in Southern Oregon and red tail hawks are sighted regularly, along with ospreys on the river.

I'm on the Tx., Ok. border,

By Liz Matheny

I'm on the Tx., Ok. border, right in the middle. I se Many of the Red tail hawks here, and not once have they Ever offered to bother my chickens! However, there is a pair of owles (i have yet to identify) who make trouble at nite (specially for my cat). They have a Lovely *call*...Whoo, whoo...whoowhoo! Always the 4 pattern! Anyone know this bird? Tks!

I have a famiy of Coopers

By Linda Beddingfield

I have a famiy of Coopers Hawks at my house! I love watching them fly through the trees! Very vocal! Puts the birds around on notice. :)

Palm trees surround my house

By MightyLair

Palm trees surround my house and my neighbors in Napa CA and we both have Barn Owls (Type I don't know. There are 216 types of Owls in two families, 18 in the Barn Owl and the rest the Typical Owl). As soon as the sun sets you can hear this loud and intimidating screech as it leaves the tree and soon the visage of the bird of prey in the moonlight. Even when driven inside by mosquitoes all windows are open to hear the screech and from who's tree the Owl came from. To me the Owl is the most magnificent bird of prey. Tattoo forthcoming and it only took 44 years to make a commitment.

I once had a huge, to me

By Cela

I once had a huge, to me anyway, owl on the lightpost in Albuquerque. It looked to be about three feet tail and totally silent. It was absolutely beautiful, until it swooped down to take my miniature poodle! Luckily, when I called to Spud he stopped and the owl backed off at the last possible second. Amazing sight I'll never forget! P. S. I still have my Spuddy buddy.

I too, like our friend from

By peasaint

I too, like our friend from Amherst, live in the 'Pioneer Valley' of western, mass. I work in Agawam, Mass and feed the wildlife at my place of employment during my breaks and lunch period. This consist of various birds, ... chipmunks, squirrels and a few young rabbits. I've seen red-tails, and cooper's in this spot, ... and though these hawks need to eat, ... one or two of these little chipmunks are being hand fed peanuts, ... by me. I try my best to protect these little guys by watching the skies before I call them, ... and after 4 to 5 years, ... they all know me by sight, and hence, food is coming. I've leaned on my car's horn numerous times when the blue-jays were absent to warn of a hawk in the immediate area, ... and so far, ... so good. These are great birds, ... but they need to find another hunting ground, away from my 'little buddies'.

I love watching the eagles.

By Kathy Schubert

I love watching the eagles. Was up at Lake Umbagogg in Cambridge NH and their was Mom & Dad and their 3 hatchlings. While I was catching a fish, I threw him back, before he hit the water the eagle swoop down and grab the fish. I was amazed at their speed and their eyesight. Eagle followed us the entire day on the lake waiting for my next catch.

I too, like our friend from

By peasaint

I too, like our friend from Amherst, live in the 'Pioneer Valley' of western, mass. I work in Agawam, Mass and feed the wildlife at my place of employment during my breaks and lunch period. This consist of various birds, ... chipmunks, squirrels and a few young rabbits. I've seen red-tails, and cooper's in this spot, ... and though these hawks need to eat, ... one or two of these little chipmunks are being hand fed peanuts, ... by me. I try my best to protect these little guys by watching the skies before I call them, ... and after 4 to 5 years, ... they all know me by sight, and hence, food is coming. I've leaned on my car's horn numerous times when the blue-jays were absent to warn of a hawk in the immediate area, ... and so far, ... so good. These are great birds, ... but they need to find another hunting ground, away from my 'little buddies'.

In NE Texas, just a couple of

By C.A.Eggen

In NE Texas, just a couple of weeks ago, a HUGE red tailed hawk took off from a tree limb about 20 ft from me. I could hear the wind as its wings pumped for altitude. It was awe-inspiring! We believe there is a nest nearby since we've heard lots of "conversation" between the hunters & the young, but haven't been able to spot it yet. I know they hunt squirrels a great deal and there are plenty in this area. So magnificent to see one so close!

How fantastic to feel the

By Catherine Boeckmann

How fantastic to feel the power of this lift off! Thanks for sharing, C.A.

I live in Sparks Nevada and

By Aimee Nance

I live in Sparks Nevada and even in downtown you can spot the Hawk nests high up in the trees. We love to lay on the lawn and watch them circle. But, last week a (what looks like your red tailed) hawk (only bigger!) got a seagull and pulled it apart on my front lawn while my neighbor and I watched from our windows. It didn't take long for the hawk to disassemble the poor bird. There were pieces everywhere! I'm glad they kill quick it was quite the blood bath. I'm grateful to know now how helpful they are to farmers!

I occasionally see what I

By Cardulloup

I occasionally see what I presume are Harris Hawks patrolling the desert landscape above my home in southern Nevada. Last week, there was a hawk on the ground, and about six feet away, was a roadrunner...both uninjured, and apparently enjoying each other's company. The hawk took off and was immediately set upon by two birds about the size of sparrows (from a nearby nest??) The hawk ignored them and flew off; the roadrunner lived up to its name, although it certainly wasn't bothered by my presence.

How interesting! You saw

By Catherine Boeckmann

How interesting! You saw small birds "mobbing" the big hawk so that the hawk would move on--further away from their territory, especially during nesting. The big hawks usually ignore them because it's not worth expending the energy; the small birds are quite agile. It shows you that a lot of small guys can take on the big guy! And these big guys seem to "know" that aggression isn't always the most efficient answer.

There is a wooded area behind

By Randall Vosburgh

There is a wooded area behind my apartment building. I live on the 9th floor and see at least one hawk a week fly by,,sometimes pretty close. Love to watch them as the breeze by on a current . Saw a lot of them last summer and fall traveling upstate twice a week. I'm not sure of the species however. The those flying by my balcony or off in the distance could be red-tails as I am told they are all over the area. So cool to see and watch them.

My Alaskan yard and

By Nicole Bowers

My Alaskan yard and surrounding area offers me wonderful entertainment with birds of prey. I watch bald eagles, young and old, gliding in the sky and hunting from the trees, great horned owls that call to one another, an occasional hawk, golden eagle and osprey and most recently a pair of falcons who are very vocal and busy. I saw one knock down a smaller bird and come back to haul it away!

Interesting! I hope that

By potsonna2

Interesting! I hope that everyone's weekend was both great and safe,plus I also hope that they have a happy Fourth of July!

Red Tails in Grass Valley! We

By Evan DC

Red Tails in Grass Valley! We have a couple in my back yard here in Grass Valley CA

There are lots of ospreys and

By JBL55

There are lots of ospreys and bald eagles around where we live in central Maine, and a rough legged hawk regularly patrols our property.

We have Sparrow Hawks here in

By Penny Klyber

We have Sparrow Hawks here in Northern Illinois. I live in a small southern suburb of Chicago. We are surrounded by forest preserves and have an abundance of wildlife! The Hawk will visit me periodically by sitting on the arm of my patio bench hunting sparrows. These are a middle size hawk, and very beautiful!

We have both a kestrel and a

By Kym

We have both a kestrel and a Red tailed hawk that sit on our fence surveying the surrounding yards. Rabbits and voles, which were abundant, seem much scarcer

We have Red Tail Hawks and

By Linda Fry

We have Red Tail Hawks and Coopers Hawks. An in the last several years the Bald Eagles are making a big come back. They are nested in area's with water year round that does not completely freeze over. Around our many lakes and river areas. Also in the Killbuck marsh areas and wildlife preserves. I have pictures and video's of a young red tail hawk that had caught a young squirrel, and had to land with it, so I was like with in two feet of it. Their eyes are very pieceing. Also have video of RThawk flying carring the squirrel.

I was wondering if you live

By Lassie

I was wondering if you live in my area, Central NY, because we have the same! Eagles are nesting in trees behind our mega-mall, near a lake. We have I think Coopers hawks common in our area, one flies across the street to stalk the birds at our feeder quite often! As long as he gets a sparrow or mourning dove, hawks gotta eat, too! I know he's around when all activity in the back yard ceases (except that one dumb cardinal hopping around all by himself!). One year in winter he flew into our sliding glass door and was dazed for quite a while. It was snowing hard and the wildlife refuge that might take him was miles away - I didn't want to have to stuff him into the cat carrier and drive an irate hawk in a snowstorm! But he rallied and polished off the dead bird he dropped when he crashed. Left only a few feathers, and then he was off.

We have them all except the

By david castleman

We have them all except the one from South West. It is great a great experience to watch any of them in a hunting mode!!!

Hawks are fabulous! I live in

By Lynne Humphries-Russ

Hawks are fabulous! I live in Central Maryland and I am honored to see them many times, sometimes three at a time! Although many are high in trees or in the sky and more challenging to identify,I believe that they are red-tailed hawks. We even have two that come to my backyard periodically and sit on the fence, making the rest of the birds in my backyard VERY upset!

Living in Florida we have

By Frank Cannamela

Living in Florida we have many different types of raptors. From the great Bald Eagle to the small Screech Owls (both red and grey). Have several different raptors around the state, including the Swallow Tail Kite.
A great website for observing raptors breeding and raising their young is put up by Raptor Resource. They have several nests that they have cameras for live video feed for you to watch and learn. Of ourse the most famous one is the one in Decorah, IA as it features a bald eagles nest.

We have lots of Red-Tailed

By Paula Hill

We have lots of Red-Tailed Hawks in our area of East Central Indiana, Wayne County specifically. They are a sight to see and watch! We have never had a problem with them getting into our chickens. We have weasels for that! :)

Western Massachusetts,

By Gloria Fortunato

Western Massachusetts, Pioneer Valley, Amherst area; I've seen all but the Harris Hawk but I would be willing to say this bird is here as well. Enjoy watching them use the thermals out in the hay fields on hot days. . .

It is interesting that you

By Daryle Thomas

It is interesting that you point out screech owls don't hoot. The animal that does make a hooting sound at night is quite a bit larger and does not fly, which is a good thing! It is the black bear. One raptor that is quite impressive to see is the Bald Eagle. While not common in Vermont, I have seen a few over the years.

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