I believe that all three of the hawks I see here, several times every day, now that the trees are bare of leaves, are year-round residents of the neighborhood and that they are either bachelors or bachelorettes.
I know, for sure, that they are three different species because I have put considerable effort into positively identifying them as Red-tail, Red-shouldered and Cooper’s. If they have spouses, their mates either have no taste for the chipmunks and flying rats (starlings) that abound in or around the Lowell Branch Woods or they choose to seek their table fare in other locales. I have seen the Red-tail with what I believe to be her mate together a few times over the last few years, but only in late winter or very early spring. I believe the Red-tail that I see almost every day to be female because she is somewhat larger than her buddy, but it is easy to tell that both are of the same species. Still, for whatever reason, she does not seem to want his company during most of the the leafless times of year.
Several of the tallest trees near the back of the woods and higher on the hillside have dead branches closer to the sky than their surrounding live ones and, even in warm, green weather, it is very common to see a hawk or hawks perched and silhouetted on one or more of the towering limbs. I sometimes sit on the porch and watch them for hours at a time and lend credence to my wife’s contention that I have way too much time on my hands.
The Red-tail and the Redshouldered will tolerate one another’s presence as long as they are several hundred yards apart, but if the Red-tail lights anywhere near the smaller Redshouldered, the latter, though much smaller, will hastily put her on the go. And sometimes the Cooper’s, and smallest of the three, will fly in and give chase to its larger cousins until it has all the visible perches to itself. It is not a very tolerant coexistence and often reminds me of the human condition.
I have never seen either of the reds actually catch a squirrel or chipmunk, but I have seen both fly out of the woods with prey in their talons. Late last summer I heard a ruckus in the garden just out of my view and got to the front yard just in time to see the big Red-tail make off with a nearly grown rabbit that had just paid the supreme price for its addiction to my bean patch. I commenced wondering if there might be something I could do to make her hang out closer to the garden all day, every day. I’m thinking that if I had a Red-tailed hawk perched out there during daylight hours and a hungry great horned owl using the same perch at night, I might actually get a mess of beans every now and then as opposed to feeding most of my garden to rabbits and flying rats.
Several times over the last few years, I have seen the Cooper’s catch starlings and, for that reason alone, it is easily my favorite of the three resident hawks.
There is a hayfield, roughly the size of three and a half football fields placed end-to-end, directly in front of my house and situated between Charlie Brown Road and Old Railroad. Charlie Brown fronts the two-acre lot on which my house sits such that I can see the entirety of the hayfield from my front porch.
The hay gets mowed three or four times each year, depending on how fast it’s growing. As soon as it gets baled, the starlings and other black, flying rats swarm in looking for seeds and whatever else they can find that appear edible.
In the meantime, the Cooper’s hawk stays hidden in the trees that front the entire length of the field on the far side or in the ones that front roughly half of it on my side of the road.
I’ve never seen exactly where it was sitting before it, seemingly, erupts from nowhere and nabs its prey with a huge explosion of tiny black feathers. Sometimes it will make at least three scores in one day, but try as I may I have never been able to photograph the action.
If only the Cooper’s could get along with the Red-tail, both could stay well fed while they kept the rabbits out of my beans and the flying rats out of my sweet corn patch. Alas, the world is far from perfect.