Monday, October 06, 2008

John Blakeman on White (Leucistic) Red-tailed Hawks, Betty Jo on Great Horned Owl Hunting, the Hunter's Moon, and Shooting Wolves From Planes

The Great Horned Owl Who Stayed (For awhile anyway)--
Central Park, 2006
(When this Owl was roosting in the Ramble, shortly before fly out Pale Male or Lola would often appear and give him a hard time before going off to roost.)

Remember I asked for suggestions as to just what species might have done in, and removed the head of the headless rabbit in the front yard? I received an email from savvy contributor Betty Jo of California with a subject line that said, "Owl."

And a brief sentence for the body, "Had to be with those clean cuts."

Alright! I sent a quick email back asking for more details, and this is what appeared next--


Well, I think a Great Horned Owl could do this; perhaps something startled it before it ate the rabbit, but that really doesn't seem likely does it?

I think you would have lots of owls in an area like yours.

I followed owl cam like a religion. One story told of a strong skunk smell one night, and a decapitated skunk was draped over a tall fence. There had been GHOwls heard in the night. They do take large prey such as skunks and rabbits when available.

The other thing on owl cam was that on the recording the sound of the crunching of large bones could be heard, so they definitely have powerful beaks.

Early one morning while driving to work, I saw a Red Shouldered Hawk flying very low, dragging a rabbit-out of the street-to a sidewalk where ivy grew on a wall and there was a small tree. It was in an industrial area; I turned around as soon as I could, went back and parked around the corner and walked around,; when the hawk saw me it flew onto a branch about 6 feet off the ground and screamed at me; the rabbit was lying on the sidewalk, quite dead.

I left and when I came home later in the day, I checked the area and there was just some rabbit fur there to tell me I wasn't dreaming. I always wondered if the hawk killed the rabbit in the median (which is planted) or if a car hit the rabbit in the street and the Red Shouldered took advantage. (Such a beautiful hawk--there are a fair number of them in the local wild parks)

Betty Jo

Yes, for those who are wondering, hawks will sometimes eat freshly dead animals that they didn't kill themselves. They don't eat carrion. Though whether this hawk was taking advantage of a happy chance or taking a big chance hunting in the street is hard to tell.

Which reminds me--
As yet, I've not found any information on it, but I'm wondering if Owls stash prey like falcons and hawks do. The headless rabbit was lying under a very large spruce tree who's bottom branches had been cropped. At first I thought that perhaps if the predator was a bird that it had perched in the spruce and come down and nabbed the rabbit. Which is possible, but it also has now made me wonder if the (presumed) Great Horned Owl had put the left-overs up in the tree for later and they had fallen out. It was a day of intermittent wind and rain.

Remember the "white" Red-tailed Hawks? What should I find next in my box but an email from Red-tail and prairie expert John Blakeman, with information not only on the Red-tails but also a few words on the predator of the rabbit.

It's great to have Mr. Blakeman back with us! He's been doing quite a bit of work on his prairie projects and speaking program of late and I've missed his input. Here's what he had to say--


Albinism (or at least the mild form of it with some normally-colored feathers, properly called leucisticism) is uncommon but well known among red-tails. This big and common species is more prone to leucisticism than any other North American raptor.

I studied a nesting leucistic red-tail here in Ohio. It produced a normally-colored eyass (which we banded). The white bird was the female.

But in the summer following, I had reports that the big white bird was being targets by local poachers, so I trapped it (with proper permits) and we held it for two years at Bowling Green State University, observing it's curious molt patterns. At the time (early 70s), only one or two other white red-tails had ever been trapped and studied alive.

Interestingly, the pattern of pigmentation (or lack thereof) changed with each molt. In one year, a certain tail feather was completely white. But when molted, is came down with normal red pigmentation in a diagonal slash across the feather.

And as noted by others who have attempted to trap white red-tails, my Ohio bird was exceptionally wary. I've trapped probably a hundred red-tails for banding along northern Ohio roads in 40 years, and never was a bird so difficult to trap as this one. I won't detail how I did it, but in the end (quite humanely, with no harm whatsoever to the hawk or the trap lure animal), I was able to take this bird into captivity -- for her own good.

She was eventually released in a state to the West, with the hope that no one there would take pot shots at her.

From my considered estimations, based upon the two or three white red-tails seen nesting or occupying Ohio sites each summer, it appears that on red-tail in about 3 to 5 thousand ends up white. Ohio has about 10,000 summer-resident red-tails.

White red-tails are seen each year at all the famous hawk migration spotting stations, from Hawk Mountain to Cape May, NJ, and all of those inland.

I believe that there is a good chance that leucisticism in red-tails is related to age, in the manner of gray-headedness in humans. It appears that the white morphology appears in later years.

The headless rabbit. You are quite right. This is not a feeding pattern of most red-tails. It is a quite common feeding pattern of great-horned owls. They are famous for plucking off heads or wings or other big body appendages.

--John Blakeman

(Ta Da! D. B.)

And what else happened today? Not much in the yard. White-belly here was brave enough to come by for a snack, but between the Cooper's Hawk and possibly the predator of the bunny, the wildlife has been laying low.

As I hadn't checked out Thresherman's Park in a while, I take off to try for a quick look around before sunset.

I counted 6 flocks of Geese, and five Cranes going north.

It is getting to be that time of year. The maples have begun to show their spectacular underlying pigments.

As it gr0ws dark, I see a very bright "star" and so turn the scope on it. Upon inspection it turns out to be the planet Jupiter.
It's oblong because it is moving and we on the earth are moving too. It's obviously dark so I had to use a long "exposure". Therefore it moved enough during the shot to create an oblong image.
If you look closely you will also see the trails of four moons. They are named after the mythical lovers of the god Jupiter-- Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.
We've discovered 63 moons around Jupiter so far. The ladies up there are the four largest and are called the Galilean Moons as it was Galileo who first discovered them.

The moon is starting to get that Halloween creepy look.
October's full moon is called The Hunter's Moon.
September's full moon is the Harvest Moon. By October the harvest is over and the game has fewer places to hide so traditionally people used the light of the big October moon to hunt. Also to reeve cattle if you happened to be on the border between Scotland and England.

Photo courtesy of the Michigan DNR.
This wolf is protected . Too bad about the ones in Alaska
This in from R. of Illinois
September 24, 2008
Updated: September 26, 2008
A wildlife group's ad attacks Palin for supporting the shooting of wolves from airplanes. She does, but there's more to it than that.
(Personally I'm always very interested in what Factcheck has to say, but I did not watch the video and neither did R. of Illinois. The images are described. It's up to you. )
Donegal Browne

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Such lovely photos today....soothing the heart. And so glad JB is back.