Hawk Conflict

My husband and I were working the backyard this morning, cleaning up the garden after a long, hard winter. The hacking, digging and trimming were beginning to pay off when both of us heard the unmistakable “Kreeee!” of a red-tailed hawk.

We’ve had a red-tailed hanging around the neighborhood for the last few winters https://amylaw.blog/2018/12/13/red-tailed-hawk/, which I’ve always thought was kinda odd — they are perch hunters of open spaces. But for the past five years or so, we’ve had an overabundance of cotton-tailed rabbits, a favorite prey item of red-taileds. And just this week we found a bunny in the street that had been ripped up by some sort of hawk.

But when my husband and I looked up to spot see the red-tailed, we saw not one, but two hawks careening through the trees. By the time I had grabbed my camera (always withing handy reach) and bolted out the front door, I could only see one of the hawks flying in tight circles above the house.

After snapping a few pics, the hawk began to fly out of range. I lowered my camera and my husband pointed out the other hawk, huddled in a tree across the street.

At first glance, this looked like another red-tailed hawk — speckled belly, and rusty tail feathers. But something about the eyes made me question that identification.

She didn’t like me looking at her (in my defense, I was 20 feet below her), and so she took off. And instantly, I knew she was a Swainson’s hawk.

Not having seen the original altercation, I have no idea what set off the spat between these two birds. It might have been food — Swainson’s also eat rabbits. But even more, they eat ground squirrels, and insects. Or the Swainson’s might have gotten too close to the Red-tailed’s nest.

Once she took flight, she lost no time in heading back to the open spaces she felt most comfortable in.

It will be interesting to see if she stays in the neighborhood. I’ll have to keep an eye out her.

Birds coming back

We’ve been following the Bald Eagles at Fort St. Vrain power plant closely this spring. But other birds are showing up, too.

Male Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhees scratch in the soil for insects. But in the spring, you can hear the males calling “tche-tche-tche-cheee!”as they perch on the tips of trees. (https://amylaw.blog/2014/06/02/spotted-towhee/)

Chickadee gathering hair from an old suet feeder.

A pair of black-capped chickadees spent the winter in the neighborhood. It looks like they might nest here this summer, too. Actually, we’ve had chickadees around for a couple of years. https://amylaw.blog/2018/05/03/a-little-housekeeping/

Red-tailed Hawk sitting on the railing of a fence in the yard of the people behind us. They keep chickens and have cotton-tailed rabbits living under the porch.

Last fall there was a Red-Tailed Hawk cruising through the neighborhood. https://amylaw.blog/2018/12/13/red-tailed-hawk/

I don’t know for sure that this is the same bird, but as I pointed out last fall, it is a little unusual for them to be hunting in the semi-wooded suburbs.

And this bird is hunting. Another neighbor said that he came out to get the morning paper, and it was ripping up a rabbit it had caught in his front yard. He said it didn’t fly off as he approached, so he decided to get the paper later.

Today I heard a Crow burbling as it flew fast overhead. It joined another to harass the Red-tail, at times almost driving it into the ground.

With all that drama going on overhead, I almost missed the ringing zipping sound of a Broadtailed Hummingbird heading west into the mountains. https://amylaw.blog/2018/05/09/summer-cant-be-far-away/

I always wonder what they eat this early in the spring. https://amylaw.blog/2017/05/18/hummers-in-snowstorm/And then I go make up some sugar water to put in the feeders for them.

Red-Tailed Hawk

As I pulled into my driveway this afternoon, I spotted a red-tailed hawk about 20 feet up in a cottonwood across the street.

I think this bird is a female, based on her size — female raptors are bigger than males. And she is big.

You can see how big this bird is when you realize that she is about 20 feet up in a cottonwood.

I’ve seen her several times in the neighborhood, usually being mobbed by the resident crows, ravens and magpies.

Which brings up the question — why is she in a suburban neighborhood? I mean, we are on the very western edge of the Denver metro area, with the mountains about half a mile away — she might cruise in once in a while to see what she could take, but the open foothills are better habitat for her. And we have a healthy resident population of woodland raptors like Coopers and sharp-shinned hawks that already patrol this territory.

Local Red-tailed hawk watching a boy walking home from school. She looks like she’s judging her chances, but non-nesting raptors don’t attack people — we’re too big to eat. Rabbits, prairie dogs, medium-sized birds are her usual prey.

She gave me no answers. I’ll just have to watch her like a hawk this winter, and see what happens.

Hawk Nest Monitoring Begins

As many of you know, I volunteer for the Jefferson County Open Space along the Front Range of Colorado. Last year, I worked on a new-to-me program, hawk nest monitoring. The nest I watched last year seems to have been abandoned, so I moved to a new spot this year, watching Red-Tailed Hawks.

Red-tailed nest.jpg

Nest on a ledge in an old quarry. The fine wavy lines on the orange rocks to the left are ripples in the fossilized beach sands that make up Dakota sandstone.

So far this year, there hasn’t been any activity by Red-Tailed Hawks at the nest itself. A couple have landed nearby, but they didn’t approach the nest. They still have a few weeks before they need to decide where they want to raise their young this year.

I did see a pair of Red-Tails come by, but I think they were migrants, on their way further north. The Dakota Hogback is a major hawk migration route, and this nest is very close to the hogback.

red-tailed hawk-5

I was only able to photograph one of the migrating Red-Tails, and that was against a cloudy background that makes it hard to appreciate their colors. But this bird has classic Red-Tailed markings — dark head and leading edge of the wings, dark “commas” where the flight feathers begin, white underside with a dark belly band. And of course, a red tail.

But I did spend a pleasant couple of hours watching 50 Dark-Eyed Juncos scratch in the dirt.

dark-eyed juncos-1

All Dark-Eyed Juncos have dark eyes and pinkish bills. But Dark-Eyed Juncos come in four different color variations. The dark headed bird above is an Oregon morph.

dark-eyed juncos-7

Male pink-sided Dark-Eyed Junco.

I would have called this a tri-color bird, but it is officially called a pink-sided Dark Eyed Junco. The sides look more orange or tan to me, but again, I didn’t get to name it.

Pink sided dark eyed junco-1.jpg

Female pink-sided Dark-eyed junco. See how her colors aren’t as intense?

At the same time I was watching these little guys forage in the foreground, about 20 Mountain Bluebirds looked for food about ten yards distant.

Mountain bluebirds-06

With their striking blue colors, these guys are noticeable when they fly by in a flock.

 

Mountain bluebirds-09

Male Mountain bluebird going after something it’s seen on the ground.

female Mountain Bluebird-3.jpg

As with many bird species, the females lack the bright colors that the males wear. But you can still see a line of blue just under her wing and onto her tail.

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.