A Great Week for Raptors
On a Thursday afternoon, I saw Mississippi Kites flying over. These birds are one of the easiest for me to identify even though they fly high up, because their silhouette is so simple and sleek, as if a minimalist drew a raptor.
The next day, I saw all three of these other raptors! Turkey Vultures I see almost every day (and Black Vultures too), but this one hung in the air on a head wind, so I got a better picture than normal.
Then I saw this hawk fly across the field and land in the very top of a pine.
And as we completed our walking loop, I saw this Red-shouldered Hawk fly up and land on a branch.
Then a few days later, the Red-tailed Hawk flew right past me too.
We have also had some Broad-winged Hawks around within the last month.
With all these different raptors, I got to wondering how they co-exist and divide up the territory, so I read a little about their diet habits.
Turkey Vultures of course are after carrion. Mississippi Kites eat mostly dragonflies and cicadas, but they seem to stay so much higher up in the air than I ever see those insects, I’m not sure what they’re catching around here.
That would leave Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, and Broad-winged Hawks to compete with each other. They are all buteos with broad wings and the characteristic behavior of soaring on updrafts of warm air. All of them practice the Perch-Watch-and-See-What-Turns-Up philosophy of hunting. The Broad-winged Hawk is comparable in size to a crow, so it is looking for small prey. The Red-shouldered Hawk perches and hunts below the forest canopy, and the Red-tailed Hawk also practices the hunt behaviors of soaring, kiting, and hovering.
I got all of this information from The Behavior of Texas Birds by Kent Rylander, which is a book I recommend even if you don’t live in Texas. The way he explains how the bird’s physical traits affect its behavior and vice versa is like no other guide book I’ve read. His summaries of behavior patterns makes it easier to keep all these birds clear in your mind.
As with a lot of my observations, I’m not sure if there are really more raptors here than usual, or if I’m just noticing them more.