This week in my travels, I've sighted two hawks. The first was the Rough-legged Hawk, that irrupts from the north. The second was the Red-Shouldered Hawk, that is a permanent resident in our area.
Let's talk about the Rough-legged first. It breeds in the summer in the Canadian and Alaskan Tundra. Brrr. When the lemmings and voles are scarce up north, which happens every few years, it migrates south for food.
I have seen this bird twice in the same vicinity in Clymer. Once, it sat in a small tree by the side of the road. The second time, I was privileged to watch it soar low over the field, hover high, and then dive for an animal.
A Red-shouldered Hawk in flight.
This large, but slender, bird (just a little bit bigger than a Red-tailed Hawk) has long wings and a long tail. It has a small bill and feet. Its feathers completely cover the legs-all the way to the feet, which is where it gets its name. Those are adaptations that keep it warmer in the tundra. Its wings barely cover its tail when it is sitting. Also, it has a white forehead just in front of the eyes.
It comes in dark and light morphs. The light morph is brown or gray above, has a white base on the tail, a dark pattern on its belly, light patches at its wrists, and very white primary and secondary flight feathers with dark tips. The dark morph's body is almost all black except for three narrow gray bands in the upper tail. David Sibley's "Guide to Bird Life and Behavior" states that both dark and light morphs have been found in the same brood. Interesting.
The Red-tailed can be distinguished from the Rough-legged by its smaller head, shorter wings, dark wrist patches instead of dark wing edges, and white base on the tail. The dark morph Rough-legged has darker bands than the Red-tailed dark morph. The Northern Harrier, another look-a-like, can be distinguished from the Rough-legged because it is heavier and has a white rump instead of white at the base of the tail.
The Rough-legged flies with slow wingbeats and wings are at a medium dihedral. That is the shape in which the bird holds its wings above the horizontal. Compare this to the Turkey Vulture with a strong dihedral and the Red-tailed hawk with a slight dihedral. I loved to watch mine hover with its legs dangling. When the Rough-legged hovers, it either produces deep wingbeats or fluttering. Then, if it sees prey below, it dives.
Look for this bird in farmers' fields, airports, and marshes. It will often be in a smaller tree than that used by the red-tailed. That is partly due to its smaller feet that can grasp smaller branches.
Many, many migrate back north along the Great Lakes. The Ripley Hawk Watch, from March 15 to May 15, is a great place to see them flying over and the folks are great in helping newcomers identify them.
Now, I'll talk about the Red-shouldered Hawk. It lives here year-round as well as all over the east. I saw mine in a marshy area near woods, which is its preferred habitat.
It is about the same medium size as a Cooper's Hawk. It has long legs, which are light yellow as well as the feet, and a long tail. The broad wings only reach three-quarters of the way down the tail. The adult tail has three or four narrow white bands. The flight feathers, seen from the top are distinctly black and white. Then the red shoulders are forward in flight. The best indicator when it is flying is its white crescent near the end of the underside of its wings.
From underneath, the coverts (the parts to the front of the flight feathers) are entirely reddish. The flight feathers are not as dark black as seen from above. The wings end in "fingers," which are notched feathers. They help reduce wind drag so that they can travel at slower speeds and still fly.
This bird flies in a similar manner to the Cooper's and Sharp-shinned hawks. It has three to five quick, small wing beats and then glides. It soars with its wings level and tips down. They do not hover, but sometimes flap when it is gliding.
In wet woodlands, it sits hidden on a perch, looking for mammals, birds, frogs and toads, snakes and lizards, and sometimes crustaceans, fish, and insects. In the winter, it might be seen in a more open area, but on a lower perch than the red-tailed.
It is a very vocal bird and has a distinctive call. "Hawks of North America," of the "Peterson Field Guides", states that it will occasionally join crows mobbing owls, has been seen eating suet at feeders, and has nested in the suburbs.
The Audubon Center and Sanctuary is a good place for viewing hawks. Our trails are open daily from dawn to dusk. The center's hours are from 10 to 4:30 on Saturdays and Mondays and 1 to 4:30 on Sundays. We are at 1600 Riverside Road, off of Route 62 and halfway between Warren and Jamestown. Call 569-2345 for more information or check us out online at www.jamestownaudubon.org.
Ann Beebe is the volunteer in charge of the Audubon gardens.