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Raptors - (birds, not dinos) - Part 1

Posted 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!


Comments
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Rabbits are diurnal and those times of the day are "considered" to be a safe time to hang out - not as many dangers as there are during the daytime hours (hawks) and nighttime hours (owls).

Hawks don't particularly care for cat meat (LOL), but yes, if the hawk is hungry enough it will go for cats and very small dogs - but not children!

-- Posted by wildwoman on Sat, Nov 24, 2012, at 8:17 AM

I still have scars on my hand from bird talons that got me 46 years ago, but it was not a raptor. During High School I worked summers on a pheasant farm. Enough said.

Since you mentioned prey being on the side of the road, why do rabbits seem to hang out there early in the morning and late in the evening.

A Red-tailed hawk was on the edge of our yard yesterday and I am always concerned that they might attack one of our cats as they cross an open space. Never had that happen but could it or do hawks know these animals might be able to bite back?

-- Posted by stevemills on Fri, Nov 23, 2012, at 8:33 AM

You are too funny! I laughed out loud when I read this!

-- Posted by wildwoman on Fri, Nov 23, 2012, at 6:24 AM

Also, never make jokes about raptors. After all, it's a sin to mock a killing bird.

-- Posted by jcarney on Thu, Nov 22, 2012, at 11:44 AM


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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.
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