Red-tailed Hawk Feeding on its Prey
I get calls all the time about a hawk that just visited someone’s feeder and they would like to know what kind of hawk is it?? Majority of the time the visitor is an Accipiter species like the Sharp-shinned Hawk or even the Cooper’s Hawk. The Accipiters have longer-tails and shorter-wings which allow them to chase the little birdies through the trees and shrubs. On occasions I have heard about Red-tailed Hawk stalking a feeder. Unlike the Accipiters who hunt by surprise, the Red-tailed Hawks will wait for their prey to come out in the open. The Buteos (which is the genus of the Red-tailed Hawk) have a shorter-tail and longer-wings which will allow them to soaring high up in the sky. They are also known to sit tight on a branch looking for any kind of movement and quickly swoop down on their prey when they are not looking.
Today one of my co-workers yelled down the hall that a Red-tailed Hawk just caught something at the feeder! Quickly I grabbed my camera and ran down the hall to see what happened. I captured a few shots (was a good distance away, sorry about the quality of the photos) and I was amazed how quickly it devoured this small critter. I feel confident that this hawk captured a small mammal due to not finding any feathers (most birds pluck the feathers away) and then closely examination the prey in the photographs. These small mammals could include meadow voles, mice, or even squirrels that might be hiding around the feeder. I have heard stories about how they witnessed a Red-tailed Hawk chasing a squirrel around a tree and then came within inches of actually catching it.
Obviously when a Red-tailed Hawk captures that squirrel the hawk needs to kill its prey as quickly as possible. If they fail to do so, the squirrel could bite the hawks toes and try to force it to let it go. This picture above shows a dead Red-tailed Hawk that was recently brought into the office. After closely inspecting it, we realized that it had numerous bite marks on its feet. Although this bird probably passed away from a vehicle strike, there was always a chance that it could have gotten an infection in its toes and then increased it chances of dieing from starvation (for not being able to use its feet properly).