Wednesday, February 13, 2008

musings on red tailed hawks

I was taught that red tailed hawks were ordinary. My college vertebrate zoology professor pronounced, perhaps quite correctly, that any hawk you see around here is probably a red tailed. This was in St. Peter, Minnesota.

But I live a bit north of there now. And I've learned to expect other kinds of hawks here: Northern Goshawks, Rough Legged Hawks (in winter), Broad winged hawk ( in spring and summer, hardly a chance of them in winter) and Northern Harriers (which don't sit still on a branch for long periods of time).

Every day as I am driving home from work, I observe a certain tree in a certain field. Over 50 percent of the time, there is a red tailed hawk perching in the tree. Yesterday it was two bald eagles! I'm sure the people in the two or three cars that pass me while my car is sitting on the shoulder as I'm observing wonder what I'm up to.

Today I saw the red tailed hawk in a tree, and I pulled over to get a better look at it. The visual point for me has always been the bright white breast, and I started thinking lately...Red tailed hawks around here are not that white on the breast! I do not own a spotting scope, so these observations are by 8x binoculars only, but...this hawk does not have any dark markings on the breast.

I should say, these hawks. As I was driving forward after observing the first one, I saw a second hawk much closer, in the top of a birch tree. It looked the same, very white breast but dark head and back.

So am I just not seeing chest markings on these birds, or are they incredibly white breasted red tailed hawks for around here?

I should say, where these hawks were sighted was about the northern winter range for them. And, a year ago I saw a similar hawk, consistently, very white breasted.

I'm beginning to think there is no such thing as "ordinary" to those who take the time to see.


Anonymous said...

Lovely post on hawks, my favorites. We saw two hawks today and we were unable to id them. We have a lot of Red tailed here, some Coopers too.

Deb said...

Ocean- Thank you. We also have a few Coopers, but we don't see them too often.

After a few second looks, it appears there may be a bit of color on the breast of the red tailed, but it sure doesn't show up very well at a few hundred yards!