Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Friday, August 24, 2007

Young Red-shouldered Hawk

Early one morning about a week ago, a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk flew low across a grassy lawn and perched in a tree near the side of the road where I was walking. As I grew closer, it flew out of the tree to the middle of the road right in front of me, only a very few yards away, where it captured something that looked like a large insect, maybe a cicada. The hawk looked up at me briefly, then calmly turned back to its prey, holding it with its feet and beginning to pull it apart with its beak. The hawk’s legs and feet were yellow, the streaks on its breast dark brown, and the rest of its coloring all over a muted, streaky brown and white – unlike the rich reddish breast and shoulders, and black and white striped tail of a mature Red-shouldered Hawk.

I stood still and watched until I heard a car approaching from the opposite direction and knew that the driver wouldn’t see the hawk until too late because it was coming up a hill. So I reluctantly clapped my hands and stomped at the hawk – which looked up at me, still not leaving, until I ran at it and yelled and clapped louder. Finally it flew, holding its prey in its feet, barely in time to get out of the path of the car, which fortunately was not going as fast as some do.

This morning about 8:15, I saw the young Red-shouldered Hawk again in the same general area when it flew suddenly onto the road just ahead of me, no more than 10 yards away. This time it picked up what looked like a cicada and flew with it to a low perch on one of several large pecan trees in a grassy, shady yard. With the pond and a creek nearby for water, the trees full of insects, and the grass around the pond probably home to rabbits, small rodents and frogs, the young hawk seems to have found a territory to its liking, at least temporarily.

Red-shouldered Hawks are forest-loving birds whose habitat is shrinking as development replaces wooded land. Cutting large areas of forest, or breaking a forest up into fragmented pieces already has made them less common in many areas, and it seems likely that as their habitat shrinks we could see them less often in this part of Georgia. We’ve had a resident pair around our neighborhood for the past several years and often see them soaring, hear their cries, or see one flying through the trees. I feel lucky to have them around and glad that we still have enough woods and mature trees to provide habitat for them.

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