Sunday, December 27, 2009

Red Tailed Hawk Chases Squirrel

"Mommy, there's an eagle in our tree!" I knew this was probably not the case, but I'm easily distracted from household chores, so I went out on the deck to investigate. Our neighbor's little girls were pointing up into the huge oak that spans our two yards. With a little direction from their mom, I was able to find the "eagle". I was pretty sure it was a hawk, but I didn't try to explain the difference to them. "Eagle" sounds cooler anyway.

I went back inside to grab my camera and binoculars. As I was busy writing down field marks, the neighbor two houses away came down. He had followed the hawk from his yard, where he told us it had snapped up a vole.

His belly must not have been full, because he was carefully scanning our yard for his next snack. Every once in a while he would crane his neck or tilt his head, his interest piqued by one of the many small animals that run from the shelter of one bush or deck to the next. You can see this by comparing his relaxed stare in the left photo below to his "squirrel alert!" on the right.

After a long while, it seemed like he was more interested in digesting the vole. I thought it was safe to sneak inside and grab my field guide. Of course, when I came back, the neighbors told me how I had missed him leap out of the tree and soar across my yard. He was now on top of the wooden swing set of the neighbors on our other side.

As I walked across our yard, I saw what had caused him to move - a squirrel in the neighbor's yard behind us. He jumped off the swing set, and the squirrel ran up a pine tree. If the squirrel was scared, he didn't show it. He ran with the same bounding stride that squirrels always seem to use.

But the hawk behaved uncharacteristically, climbing up the tree after the squirrel. The two of them went up the tree in a spiral, always on opposite sides of the trunk. The squirrel was in his world, so easily beat the hawk up into the dense branches at the top of the tree. The hawk's talons were made for pouncing on squirrels from the sky, not climbing trees. His broad shoulders and large wings made his job even harder.

Defeated this time, the hawk dropped to the ground. He slowly ran and flapped his long wings, having a difficult time getting airborne from this awkward position. He crossed the road in front of our neighbor's house right about at the height of a car radiator grille. Now I understood why I sometimes saw road killed hawks.

I really wanted to follow this bird to his next perch, and watch his next attempt to scoop up a rodent. But my leaking toilet calls me...


  1. What a beautiful hawk! We were really amused when we first moved in to our previous home, and my husband, who is bald on top, went for a swim in the pool. He looked up and saw a hawk circling right over his head. It must have been wondering what he was, since all it could see was his head protruding from the water...:->

  2. Awesome shots of the hawk. It must have been neat to watch the chase.

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