Female Red-tailed Hawk

We’ve had a huge red-tailed hawk hanging around the neighborhood this week. I assume it is a female, because female raptors are bigger than males. And she was big.

And I knew she was a red-tailed hawk (Red-Tailed Hawk), even without seeing her tail, because 1) she was big, 2) she had a stocky body with a short tail, which meant that she was an open country “buteo” hawk, as opposed to an “accipitor” that hunts in the trees. 3) she had a “belly band” of rust colored feathers across her tummy, with a white patch above. (For more about identifying a red-tailed hawk https://amylaw.blog/2020/04/25/hawk-conflict/)

She really didn’t like me photographing her. There was another group standing a few feet away, and I never got a photo of her looking at them at all. But she glared at me — a lot.

In between glares, she was kinda fidgety. She stretched…

…scratched …

… and turned around. Did I mention that she was a red-tailed? She had the reddest tail I’ve ever seen on a red-tailed hawk.

It was a beautiful day yesterday — clear skies and 60os. It was the warm day before the storm. (For more on weather whiplash https://amylaw.blog/2020/09/09/snow-in-september/)

We’re down in the high 20s today, with six inches of snow. Not complaining, we need the moisture!

Prepping for Take-off

May 2, 2019

The day after I last posted, I noticed new behaviors with the Bald Eagle chicks — they began stretching and flapping their wings…

May 8, 2019

…and they began feeding themselves — just a little at first, but it’s a milestone.

As with all new skills, wing-flapping takes a lot of practice, and the willingness to fail. They need to practice until they get it right. Once they try to fly, they have to get the basics right the first time.

May 12, 2019

One of the Eagle chicks spent a fair amount of time staring into the camera this day. I suspect that the lens caught the light and that caught the attention of the chick.

May 14, 2019

More wing-stretching. Only one chick stretches at a time, often in sessions of fifteen minutes or more at a time. They have also moved closer to the edge of the nest.

May 14, 2019

A new twist to the wing stretching — hopping as they flap.

Raptor Migration in Full Swing

Migrating turkey vulture

Migrating turkey vulture

The annual Raptor (aka Birds of Prey — eagles, hawks, falcons, owls and vultures) migration is in full swing. The birds of prey are migrating north to their summer nesting grounds. The raptors fly up the hog back for several reasons. First, it is an easy marker for them to follow —  a constant ribbon of rock from New Mexico into Wyoming. Second, the sun warms the rocks and provides up drafts. These up drafts give a little extra lift that the heavy birds of prey use to gain altitude. With the gift of lift, the raptors can soar for more miles every day.

Scientists take advantage of the concentration of raptors. There is a monitoring station perched on top of the Dakota Hogback at Raptor Ridge, just on the east side of Co Hwy 93, just south of the I-70/ Co Hwy 93 interchange. There is a parking lot at the base of the hog back, across from Mathews-Winters Open Space. http://jeffco.us/open-space/parks/matthews-winters-park/

Migrating Cooper's Hawk

Migrating Cooper’s Hawk

Migrating red-tailed hawk

Migrating red-tailed hawk

Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science initially manned the observation station, but budget cuts took their toll, and the job was passed on to Hawk Watch volunteers from the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. http://rmbo.org/v2/web/getInvolved/hawkWatch.aspx These hardy folks volunteer to count the raptors as they fly overhead. Not a bad gig when it is nice out, but in wind or cold, it takes true dedication.

But their work pays off, and you can see it in their reports. Since they started watching at the beginning of April, almost 400 birds of prey have been spotted cruising over the hogback. https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!topic/cobirds/N7YwWW90D3k

Hawk Watch will continue counting raptors  through May. Go up and see them and spot some hawks flying by.


It must be spring…

… the turkey vultures are back!
As large birds, turkey vultures depend on thermals to work themselves up to as high as 10,000 feet to search for carrion (dead animals). Once aloft, they fly with their wingtips splayed out finger-like for better flight control while soaring.

Turkey vultures are large dark birds. When they soar, they spread their wingtips.

Turkey vultures are large dark birds. When they soar, they spread their wingtips.

Because they need warm air to lift them, you’ll only turkey vultures from early spring through late fall.  During these seasons, you can spot turkey vultures soaring in the air everywhere in Colorado except high valleys and mountains.  They especially like piñon-juniper and mountain shrublands.
How do you know it’s a turkey vulture? TVs are very large birds which, when seen from below, are all dark, except the back edges of their wings which are translucent (allow light through).  Most commonly seen when soaring, their flight is “tippy”, with their wings in a slight “V” when you see them head on.  The head seems almost nonexistent from below.
Because they are meat-eaters, Turkey Vultures have traditionally been classified with birds of prey, but turkey vultures may be much more closely related to storks and flamingos.  They lack the razor-sharp beak and grasping talons of the hunters of the sky, and so cannot catch their own prey, or even tear into a fresh carcass.   Because of this, the Cherokee Nation calls turkey vultures “peace eagles”.
Instead, turkey vultures act as garbage disposals.  Special traits equip them for this job.  TV’s find carrion by smell, but use their excellent sight to find other TVs who have found something to eat.  Turkey vultures can digest truly toxic germs, eating rotten meat with impunity.  Once they find some dead thing, they plunge their featherless red heads in and gorge until they can barely fly.  We owe these and other scavengers a debt, for without them, we would be knee-deep in carcasses.
For a bird, Turkey Vultures are smart, gentle, sociable and, despite their public image, clean. Their Latin name, Cathartes, means “purifier”. The Spanish name for turkey vulture is zopilote (so-pee-low-tay), which is just a cool word to say.