Birding on Bloedel: An unruffled red-tailed raptor

“A Year of Birding in Bloedel” is a column that runs every Friday in the Bainbridge Islander. The project is planned to continue in 52 parts through 2014 to help readers find and identify birds in the island’s garden sanctuary. Beginning with this entry on the bald eagle, each column will also be published  here on the Bainbridge Conversation blog each Friday. 

The author, Ted Anderson, is a retired professor of biology, having taught at McKendree University (Ill.) for 32 years and for the University of Michigan’s summer biological station for 20 years, where he frequently taught the biology of birds.

Anderson is also the author of “Biology of the Ubiquitous House Sparrow, from Genes to Populations” (2006), and “The Life of David Lack, Father of Evolutionary Ecology” (2013). Ted and his wife Carol have been members of Bloedel Reserve for seven years. They live in Kingston. 

Contributed photo Red-tailed hawks are a common year-round resident throughout much of America's lower 48 and Mexico.
Contributed photo
Red-tailed hawks are a common year-round resident throughout much of America’s lower 48 and Mexico.

Crows regularly mob potential predators such as hawks, owls or eagles that they discover in their habitat. The mobbing behavior involves numerous crows diving close to their enemy, sometimes even striking it with their bills and cawing loudly. This behavior may be responsible for a group of crows being referred to as “a murder of crows.”

Last Saturday as my wife and I walked down the path leading from the visitor’s center toward the birch grove, we heard a murder of Northwestern Crows expressing their intense displeasure at the presence of a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). The hawk was perched in a fir tree near the shoreline and seemed relatively unruffled by the persistent scolding and dive-bombing of the crows, although it did cock his head occasionally to maintain a wary eye on its tormentors.

The Red-tailed Hawk is a common year-round resident throughout much of the lower 48 and Mexico, and a summer resident throughout most of Canada and Alaska. Adults are predominantly brown on the back with cream-colored underparts, streaked on the belly with brown spots. As its name implies, the upper side of the tale is a deep rufous-red.

Small mammals comprise the bulk of the Red-tail’s diet, particularly mice, voles and rabbits. It hunts by soaring over open fields or grasslands, or by sitting on an exposed perch, to spot the movement of a potential prey. When a prey is located, the hawk dives through the air and attempts to capture it with its talons.

Look for this magnificent raptor soaring over one of the grassland areas at Bloedel, particularly on warm, sunny days when there are thermal updrafts. Alternatively, listen for a murder of crows to tip you off to the presence of this or another bird of prey.


About Ethan Fowler

Ethan Fowler has more than 20 years of journalism experience with 19 years of daily and weekly newspaper experience covering news, features and sports, as well as being an editor for 14 of those years. He has won several writing awards over the years in Washington state, Virginia, Texas and Georgia, including award-winning investigative journalism. Fowler was paid by the Review & Herald Publishing Association in 2009 to co-author a book, "Brushed Back: The Story of Trevor Bullock," with his wife. The book details the real life of a top minor league pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and his Christian faith. "Brushed Back" has sold more than 2,000 copies since its release.