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Raptors - (birds, not dinos) - Part 1Posted Thursday, November 22, 2012, at 7:50 AM
Things are quiet on the wildlife front now and it seems a good time to talk about some wildlife basics. Birds of prey are the species that always seemed to be the ooh and aah factor at Walden's Puddle.
I would like to start with hawks. In middle Tennessee we have several different kinds of these birds. The most common that you might see in our area are Red-tailed hawks and American Kestrals, also known as sparrow hawks. In more rural areas you might see Sharp-shinned hawks and Red-shouldered hawks.
By the way, there are no "chicken hawks" - just hawks that might occasionally eat chickens!
For the most part, the most common foods for hawks are birds, mice, and rabbits. These birds are hunters, and prefer live prey. They will eat carrion, but only when desperate.
Unfortunately, now and during the winter months, their normal meals are harder to find. You can often see the red-tails and kestrals perched on power lines alongside the highway. They can stay there for hours while they search for food.
This is another example of our behavior that causes problems for wildlife. We throw trash and leftover food scraps out of our cars. Hungry little mammals such as mice scavenge on the side of the road for our scraps. Hungry birds of prey swoop down to catch the mice, and BANG - a car collision - and a dead or injured hawk.
I was fortunate to witness a unique scene this summer in my neighborhood - I was on the deck and a rabbit came running through the yard, followed closely by a red-tailed hawk. I thought I was going to see a rabbit murder, but then I saw the crow that was on the heels of the hawk. So, the crow ended up accidentally saving the rabbit. Nature is pretty strange at times. If the songbirds in your neighborhood start making a ruckus, you can count on a predator being nearby!
If you find an injured hawk - be very careful if you try to rescue it. Not only do they bite hard, their talons are long and sharp. They have a reflex that causes their feet to squeeze and lock when they sense movement. I once spent a very unpleasant 45 minutes with a red-tail attached to my inner wrist....I still have the scars.
Please don't throw food scraps out on the highway!
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Vicky Carder is a Shelbyville native. In 1991 she founded Walden's Puddle Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Nashville. There she served as Executive Director for more than 12 years. The Center is the largest wildlife hospital in Middle Tennessee. She has published in wildlife national and international journals. Now she wants to share her knowledge of native wildlife and some of the experiences she had while working with wildlife.