Saturday, December 09, 2006

John Blakeman Wades in with a Theory about the Red-tail in the Sapling and a Junco Sleeps in the Snow

Divine Mom, Isolde, of the Cathedral Nest does some Contemplating

Junco's Roost

I'd always heard that Dark Eyed Juncos will sometimes, in inclement weather, "roost" for the night in a boot print, or other deep impression in the snow. I looked out the window in the front door in Wisconsin about midnight and just a few feet away, the little guy was snugged in, snoozing away in the heel indentation of a boot print. I doubted I could get out there and photograph him without flushing him in the middle of the night so there is no photograph of the event. Just a shot of the print from the next day. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing, even if you don't get the photograph.

One of the young Divines, from the Cathedral nest, watching a rat in Morningside Park

From John Blakeman, Ohio Red-tail expert-


Here's my interpretation of red-tails perched on flimsy, low perches along highways.

I've seen this many times, too. I think the birds choose to sit out there not because they can intercept a rodent moving across or down the median or berm, but because they have discovered a vole nest close to the low perch. From afar, the hawk has watched voles moving in and out of a clump of grass with a nest inside.

But from distant tree or pole perch, the hawk was not able to fly over to the scene of activity before the wandering voles got back beneath a shielding clump of grass. But by sitting right above the clump of grass with the vole nest (which is a tight hemisphere of packed grass about the size of softball or grapefruit), the hawk can wait in stealth until a vole emerges and ventures out into the open between other grass clumps.

Here in Ohio, I more frequently see the local red-tails sitting on roadside fence posts, just four feet above the ground. We don't have many perches out in the median strips of our 4-lane highways. Fence posts are everywhere, however.

I've discovered these vole nests both when hunting with my falconry red-tail, and more frequently after I've burned my Ohio prairies. In each case, there are several "runways" or vole lanes radiating out from the nest. The voles can run at good speed along these unimpeded by any vegetation. The runways are actually open 2-inch tunnels extending for many yards out into surrounding feeding areas.

By sitting just above the nests, the hawk watches the movements of the voles, learning their activity patterns, hidden safety areas, and everything else that will facilitate easy and repeated kills on the part of the hawk.

Often, the hawk will sit there for several hours and watch all the excursions of the voles to and from the nest. It will strike only when it has learned that a vole is too far out into the open and will be unable to scurry back to cover when it sees the hawk's four-foot wingspan pouncing from above.

And I also have reason to believe that the hawks conserve their vole nest discoveries. Instead of taking every vole discovered in a day or two at a single nest, thereby exhausting it, I find that red-tails often leave a local vole nest alone for a few days, allowing vole society to re-adapt after the loss of a member. This maintains the vole family, which continues to produce copious numbers of young voles that the hawk can harvest in the future.

As I've described before, red-tailed hawks are the real contemplating intellects in the raptor world, owls totally notwithstanding. It's our red-tails that are the great thinkers out there.

--John Blakeman


That sounds very plausible. I've watched Pale Male sit on a low branch of a London Plane near the Hawk Bench, watching a rat hole under a bench near the Anderson statue. He watched towards evening, which is when the rats come out, for a number of days. This was when Lola was sitting the nest across the Model Boat Pond from his perch. He'd turn his head and check on her now and again, then go back to contemplating the rats as over time they ventured further and further out from under the bench.

I can't help but think that he also became more a part of the scenery to the rats, the more time he was just "there", not doing anything to them. After several days, suddenly he hopped to a slightly closer branch and watched some more. This was after he and his had already eaten for the day, so he seems to have been planning the filling of the larder for the future.

Donegal Browne

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