The Red-tailed Hawk nest that produced two fledglings last year is in use again this spring. In the past month the nestlings have gone from tiny white powder puffs to nearly equaling their parents in size. Down is still visible, especially on their heads, but contour feathers are quickly replacing them on other parts of their body. Soon there will be wing stretches and flapping, as well as hopping about on nearby branches in preparation for fledging.
Given the right lighting, it’s very easy to see how red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) got their common name (although the tail of juvenile red-tailed hawks is brown for their first two years). Central Vermont and New Hampshire is at the northern end of the red-tailed hawk’s year-round range – if they live much further north, they usually migrate south for the winter. This common bird of prey typically inhabits open areas interspersed with trees. It is usually observed soaring in wide circles over a field, or perched high in a tree, where it sits and waits, keeping an eye out for prey such as mice, voles, rabbits and hares. Once it spots a small mammal, as the red-tail in this photograph just had, it quickly takes off and uses its talons to capture its next meal.
The red-tailed hawk nest which has been featured several times this summer is empty! Yesterday I watched as the remaining young red-tail climbed out on a branch above the nest and flew over the adjacent field, landing in a tree on the edge of the field. Because recently-fledged red-tailed hawks tend to stay very near their nest for the first few days (and sometimes weeks) after fledging, this may well have not been its maiden flight. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful sight to see!
The first of hopefully many nature mysteries was interpreted and documented with photographs taken by the observers. A brief explanation of this story in the snow accompanies the photographs. Mystery photos are welcome–please check the submission guidelines (see link in menu at the top of my blog) prior to sending your photograph/questions.
This story took place in Sharon, Vermont, where Francie and Ron Schmidt commonly observe a pair of mallards on or near their pond. One morning this winter they spotted a red-tailed hawk perched in a tree, feeding on something. Being naturally curious, they decided to buckle on their snowshoes and see if they could find any signs of the kill in order to determine exactly what the hawk was dining on. The pictures they took tell the tale of the misfortune of one mallard drake.
After killing the mallard, the hawk proceeded to pluck many of its feathers while standing on the surface of the snow. It ate some of the duck’s organs and then took off for the tree with the front end of the duck in its talons, leaving the hind portion behind on the snow along with all the plucked feathers. The repeated indentations in the snow made by the hawk’s feet and wings indicate that the hawk had a bit of a struggle trying to take off with such a heavy load. However, it succeeded in reaching the tree, where they had initially seen it. Having documented this entire story with their camera, the Schmidts decided to return home. On their way back, they happened to notice a female mallard, most likely the other member of the mallard pair, hiding in a nearby shrub. Later, they photographed the hawk off the corner of their deck when he returned to the kill site