Today my friend fed a leftover chicken leg to a red-shouldered hawk. Arriving at the feeding area early, the bird could be seen waiting patiently for his morning breakfast. So were the crows. When the food arrived and was put out on the ground, the crows commenced flying to lower tree branches. The hawk just watched. However, when the crows moved too close to the meat, the hawk flew to a lower branch. The crows finally landed on the ground, but that hawk was not going to let them get its breakfast. It swooped in and grabbed the leg.
Normally, red-shouldered hawks dine on smallish critters like mice, rabbits, and skunks, small reptiles, amphibians like toads and frogs, birds and most insects. Just maybe that chicken wing hit the spot just right (like our avoiding cooking by eating in a restaurant.)
Going out on a limb, here are some ideas about how far and from where this bird traveled to get his sumptuous treat. At this time of year, their territory might be from 250 to 600 acres of woods. The habitat around Roger Tory Peterson Institute and 100 Acres Woods, the property of Jamestown Community College, consists of woods with water and some open spaces. Perfect for red-shouldered hawks.
A red-shouldered hawk flies in Allegheny State Forest.
Photo by Dave Cooney
Have you heard the term hawk-eyed? That applies to us as well as hawks. We depend on our eyes more than our noses. Back when our ancestors found their food in trees, they needed a keen sense of sight to find those insects. I'm talking about the ancestors that came before man. That is, the birds. The birds developed binocular vision, because they needed to find moving prey that constantly changed its distance from them. Of course, there are some birds without binocular vision. For instance, woodcocks need eyes on the top of their head when they feed on the ground to warn them of predators above.
Compared to humans, raptors have the ability to see prey two or three times further away. However, there's always an exception. This time, it's the cooper's hawk. Does it use its eyesight to find quail. No. It finds this food by its calls.
Like in the story Goldilocks and the three bears, birds have big eyes, compared to those of humans. The human eye weighs 1 percent of its head's weight. However, the starling's eye weights 15 percent of its head's weight. That sizeable difference must make a big difference for the bird.
Back to hawks . The structure of their eyes is different. Each eye can be compared to a telescope. It has a flattened lens that is quite a distance from the retina, compared to that of other birds. That allows it to see a large image. Also, that large pupil and the cornea with a big curve let in lots of light to see dinner (its prey).
Another interesting behavior the red-shouldered hawk performs is the way it keeps its nest clean. Some birds, like the Baltimore oriole, build a new nest every year. Wouldn't it be nice if we could simply move to a new home every year? I, myself, don't care for cleaning, but I do loved decorating. Oh well, I digress. Bird nests, over the winter, develop life-theatening parasites (maggots, fleas, ticks, and mites) or pathogens (bacteria and fungi).
In fact, nests might have tiny critters actually nibble at birds or their waste. Ugh! Some birds simply remove their chicks' fecal sacs. Here's an interesting method. A lot of birds bring green leaves or cedar bark, to the nest. Those materials are a lot better than pesticides that humans use to eliminate destructive organisms. Then, there are the nuthatches. They smear pine pitch and insects around the holes that are the front doors to their homes. Those substances also discourage parasites. So, what do our red-shouldered hawks do? They use the addition of green leaves or cedar bark method.
One last interesting behavior. Some birds instinctively try to propagate their species by a method called asynchronous hatching of eggs. This allows the first chicks hatching from the eggs to get a heads up, so to speak, on the food and attention of the parents. One ornithologist felt that the parents couldn't be sure of the amount of food that would be available when the eggs were laid. Thus, this way, at least the oldest chicks would probably survive. The youngest chicks would only live if there were enough food. I think that this is an example of Darwin's survival of the fittest theory.
What awes me is the time that some people must have spent observing birds and learning of such behaviors. There is so much more than just identifying a bird.