Friday, September 26, 2008

Death From Above

At the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center, the Barred Owl (Strix varia) is widely known as the silent killer on the wing. However, there is another bird that brings death from a perch and a near-silent glide.

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America states that the Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) is “uncommon.” It also states that the bird is, “Found in mature lowland forests with clearings and water.” As habitat loss is the bird’s main threat, maybe that is why they are not uncommon here in the swamp at the Francis Beidler Forest. While watching a male Hooded Warbler (Wilsonia citrina) hawking for insects on and around a Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor) near the boardwalk, we felt as if we were being watched.

We’ve learned that in the swamp, it is wise to pay attention to our Spiderman-like swampy sense. A 360-degree look around brought our eyes to the Red-shouldered Hawk adhering to the Sibley guide…“Solitary. Hunts mainly from perch within forests.” What, you may ask, is on the menu? Sibley states, “Feeds mainly on reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and birds.” We have plenty of those prey items here in the swamp. Before spotting the hawk, we had seen an Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) with nasty looking Tree Squirrel Bot Fly (Cuterebra emasculator) wounds. Apparently, our boardwalk-hugging hawk has a discerning palette.

From numerous spots on the boardwalk, the hawk’s head was blocked by a collection of small branches and leaves. Getting off the boardwalk, we were able to move closer and get an unobstructed view. Finally, we crossed the invisible line of “too close.” With a gentle admonishment, the Red-shouldered Hawk dropped from its perch and soared effortlessly to a new perch on a neighboring tree. Happy hunting!

The talon images are from a hawk killed by a car last year.

Images by Mark Musselman

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