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Interpreting a Kill Site

12-18-13 hawk kill IMG_4136When there’s snow on the ground and you come upon a site where a predator successfully caught prey, there are usually signs that will help you determine who the main players were. In the above scene, remnants of red squirrel fur confirm the identity of the prey. If you look at the top of the image, you can make out a faint wing impression. Although not in this case, both wings of an avian predator often touch the surface of the snow, allowing you to measure the wingspread, and this information can help to eliminate some species of raptors. Birds of prey often defecate at a kill site. In the lower left corner of the photograph, as well as to the left and right of the packed area where the squirrel was eaten, you can see white (uric acid) bird droppings. Given that it is a hawk or an owl, knowledge about their respective evacuation habits will allow you to narrow down the possibilities even further. Owls tend to let their droppings do just that – drop, leaving small plops on the ground. Hawks, on the other hand, tend to forcefully eject their droppings some distance away. The long, thin streaks at this site were definitely propelled outwards, making it likely that the predator was a hawk. Familiarity with the hawks that overwinter in your area can help pinpoint which species it could be.

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5 responses

  1. Fascinating! I really appreciate these “interpretation” posts. I think they will make for a richer experience for me when I come across something on my own.

    December 18, 2013 at 2:00 pm

  2. Margo Nutt

    How Sherlock Holmesian of you!
    LOVE your blog, Mary!

    December 18, 2013 at 2:22 pm

  3. Kathie Fiveash

    The spray of droppings seems to go at least three directions. Does that mean that hawks really spray their droppings, not eject them forcefully in a stream? Thanks again Mary for another wonderful post.

    December 18, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    • It defecated three different times, Kathie!

      December 18, 2013 at 2:54 pm

  4. This is great Mary! Hope you can do more of these kind of shots. I am still working on finding the one I described in my email, but 12 inches of fluffy white snow covered up the originals! Just ordered a calendar! Practicing writing 2014. Always tough to change over!

    December 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm

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