Monday, January 17, 2011

Red-tailed Hawk Visits Our Backyard

As I sat at the computer Sunday afternoon at about 2:15, I could see the tops of our neighbors' cottonwood trees through a window. There are often crows up there, but I saw something else fly in and land that made the crows look small. I grabbed my binoculars and was amazed to see that the bird was a red-tailed hawk, a bird with a four-foot wingspan. No wonder it dwarfed the crows, which are not small birds themselves.

Photo taken by my son through glass door to our deck

These magnificent hawks are quite common out in the open spaces of our region, but to see one perching in a tree adjacent to our backyard (albeit in an area with large yards near the edge of town) was a first for me. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes:
You’re unlikely to see this bird in your backyard (unless yours is a big one). Red-tailed Hawks eat mostly mammals, so they’re less likely to visit a popular feeder than a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned hawk is. ... The best way to find a Red-tailed Hawk is to go for a drive, keeping your eyes peeled along fenceposts and in the sky.

Trying to get a better view, I hauled out the spotting scope and set it up looking out of our dining room window. I don't have a good setup for taking photos through the scope, so there's some color distortion and vignetting (the dark circle around the scene), but we were excited to get such a good look at a hawk from inside our house. My 11-year-old son has really been enjoying watching birds lately and this was the first red-tailed hawk he'd seen since he started to keep a list. He grabbed the camera and took the top photo above while I was setting up the scope. I didn't crop that one so you could see its size in the treetops.

Lighting adjusted to bring out tail color

After about 15 minutes the hawk turned so its creamy front side was facing toward us, and just as we were about to take more photos it flew off to the west, in the direction of downtown Northfield.


Christopher Tassava said...

Impressive! RTH are gorgeous birds. I'm often accompanied by them when I'm out riding in the summer: they sit on the fenceposts or telephone poles and watch me very carefully while I act as little like a mouse as I can.

Mary S. said...

We see these hawks fairly frequently on our pergola or the oak tree next to it. They do a good job of keeping the varmint population down. Great photos!

Billie Jo said...

Beautiful bird!

Ed Lufkin said...

That's exciting, Penelope-----I recall how wild it was when a Cooper's hawk showed up in our back yard in Rochester, clutching a dead pigeon. Ed