Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A hawk makes a kill...

Yesterday I shared a short video segment that I recorded at Forest Hill Nature Area.

Today I wanted to share just a couple of photographs from the same walk. 

As Shara and I walked along the edge of the property's South Woods, we noticed a Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) fly up from trailside and land in one of the trees.  It stayed in the tree for about 10 seconds and then flew away.

A Red-tailed Hawk in distant tree

This photograph is nothing to write home about.  It was taken from about 50 yards away with a lens more suited to close subjects.  The real excitement came when we approached the spot where the hawk had been on the ground.

Plucked feathers indicate a kill site

The ground beside the trail was strewn with feathers.  Lots of feathers.  Obviously, the hawk had been on the site of a kill.  While Red-tailed Hawks often eat mice and other small animals whole, with larger animals they use their beak to pluck the prey's fur (or in this case feathers) before feeding.

Several of the feathers on the ground were quite distinctive such as the spotted feathers to the left of the photo and one iridescent purple/blue feather.  My first impression from the feathers was that the hawk had made a kill of a Wood Duck (Aix sponsa). 

A little more searching confirmed this as I found the remains of a Wood Duck drake (adult male) a few feet away on the other side of a tree.

This Wood Duck drake was killed and partially eaten by a Red-tailed Hawk

The breast of the duck was completely plucked and most of the meat had been eaten from one side of the breast.

Although Red-tailed Hawks have been persecuted in the past because people thought that they preyed on large numbers of game birds and game animals (such as rabbits), the majority of their diet is made up of small mammals such as mice and voles.  Overall, between 80% and 95% of their diet consists of mammals (mostly rodents).  Birds (of all types) consist of at most 10% of their diet.  The remainder of their prey consists of insects, reptiles, and amphibians.  Red-tailed Hawks will also occasionally feed on fresh carrion such as road-killed deer.

I don't know if the hawk flew away from the kill because it heard us (we were still not visible when it flew) or if it was just done with its meal.  Either way, the meat from the duck will not go to waste.  The hawk may have returned after we left to resume feeding or another animal would eventually find it and scavenge the remains.

Although I have found kills by hawks (or owls) in the past, this was by far the freshest.  It was pretty cool to be able to piece together this story so easily.

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