Birding Notes

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

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Small Birds Flush a Red-shouldered Hawk

At 7:30 this morning, Summer Tanagers called a soft, repeated pik-a-tuk to each other near the edge of the woods, and Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, Pine Warbler, Northern Parula, Phoebe, Eastern Towhee, Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, and House Finch sang. A family of Brown-headed Nuthatches squeaked in the pines. A Red-bellied Woodpecker’s churrrr sounded like a musical purr. A pair of Downy Woodpeckers foraged quietly in the oaks, and a Great-crested Flycatcher called its hoarse whreep from down near the creek. A male Bluebird perched in the low branches of yard trees and swept down to the grass for caterpillars or worms. A Chipping Sparrow sang its long dry trill from somewhere down the street. And for the first time this season I heard the harsh, loud songs of a few early-rising Cicadas.

It was a beautiful morning, with a sky as blue as the Bluebird’s wings and small white patchy clouds. From not far inside the woods, I heard a Red-eyed Vireo’s whining nyaanh! calls sharply repeated, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher’s spee! I was searching the trees to see if I could find the Vireo when a large, vividly colored Red-shouldered Hawk flew suddenly, quietly out of the trees and perched on a low limb in full view. Two small birds flew right behind it, fussing and darting at it from different directions. The Hawk’s broad breast was rufous-red, its head dark brown and its wings, seen from the front, dark brown flecked with white. It remained on the branch for less than two minutes, but made such a striking picture against the gray and green of the woods that the image still seems bright. When it flew, with both small birds in pursuit – I don’t know for sure if they were Vireos or Gnatcatchers or something else because I was focused on the Hawk – it flared its black and white striped tail, spread its wings and flew along the edge of the woods and back into the trees, still low. It probably didn’t go far, but far enough to be out of sight.

We’ve seen a Red-shouldered Hawk several times recently, so I think it’s often around, and often low among the lower branches of the trees, quiet, well-screened, and not easy to see unless it moves or small birds discover it and start alarm calls.


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