Saturday, October 25, 2008

What Raptor Stares at Rabbit Holes? Plus Red-tails vs Ospreys

I've driven two blocks from the house and typically I'm scanning for birds without really thinking about it and I look at the field next to the high school. ZAP! My eyes are pulled to a pale tummy with dark wings, shaped like a raptor. But she is really far away so it's hard to see what's going on. Size of a Red-tail. But what would a Red-tail be doing standing in a field. I pull over though in truth it isn't possible to actually pull over much and I'm nervous I'm going to get smacked. I switch from the hawk to the rear view mirror and back again. The hawk isn't mantling. She isn't eating. I wonder if she's sick?

Unfortunately as all I was doing was going to the Dollar General for Kleenex all I have with me is my baby Nikon which is only 4x when it comes to zoom. Do I have binoculars with me? NO. I point the camera in the general direction of the bird, who doesn't even show up on the view screen she's so far away. Four clicks and I pull out and head for the nearest parking lot. Hop out and head towards her on the sidewalk. Wait she isn't just standing she's starring fixedly at a spot on the ground slightly in front of her. I'm still a bijillion yards away, she sees me, and zips into the air in a gorgeous---not sure what to call the move. She's so fast that she's on the ground and then suddenly she isn't and I see her pale anterior against the sky, sideways, then back and without the least look of effort she's gone.

I get a good view of her tail shape and that's no Red-tail. The tail is too long and thin, and the underside too pale. I certainly wish people walked more around here. It would give the hawks a chance to get used to them and I wouldn't have all these problems.

But by now, I know she was staring at something so I'm going to see if I can find it. Thank goodness for a few pieces of obvious litter that help me triangulate the hawks previous position.

I get to the spot and--it's a hole? She's staring at a rabbit hole? Too big for small rodents and not big enough for ground hogs or possum. But raptor stands in the ground and stares at the hole. Shouldn't she have some elevation? And as rabbits don't keep their babies in their burrows, it isn't like a naive youngster is going to poke his head out and get nabbed. Isn't an adult rabbit going to notice?

What bird was that? I do hope I got a good enough photo to figure it out.

I plug the camera in and this is the best I can get after cropping. My first thought? Hmm, looks Acciptor-ish but it was too big for a Sharpie or Coop. Goshawk, maybe? Kind of brownish for that though. Aha! Obvious white eyebrow! An immature Goshawk, perhaps?
The rabbit hole. What self-respecting raptor stands and stares at a rabbit hole? It's not like naive baby bunnies are going to appear and say "eat me".

Well, the literature says that Goshawks do eat rabbits. But it also says they like mature forest and sit up in trees and wait like Red-tails. But it also says they are incredibly persistent and one Goshawk chased and attempted to flush a rabbit from a hedgerow for 45 minutes before getting it into the open and snaring it. Is this Goshawk planning to jump at bunny and startle him so much Bunny will just run out of the hole and Goshawk will be able to grab him?

So many questions and so little information! Is this a young Goshawk who is such a dope that he's attempting the impossible? I don't know, she looked to be in excellent shape. And she was certainly strong and fast when she went into the air.

Has anyone run into this particular situation before?

Osprey feeding. Courtesy of the Ohio DNR

Responding to KC's report on the Tulsa Forum of an osprey arriving in Tulsa in October (many many months early), Sally from Kentucky (who is one of your contributors as well as a Tulsa Forum contributor) reports that there are osprey now nesting and staying year round in Kentucky, but as she notes, the maps do not have osprey anywhere near that far north year-round. KC (who lives and photographs wildlife in and around Tulsa) reports that he has heard of red tails and osprey battling each other....which seems peculiar as osprey eat fish and red tails (as a rule) do not eat fish. Why would they be fighting if they have different prey bases?
R. of Illinois


Speaking of staying year round, as it turns out it's far better for the Ospreys to stay in Kentucky for the winter. Many die from pesticides in their wintering grounds in South America. How their presence here in winter may affect other species time will tell.

In Wisconsin the Titmouse now stay year round in some areas from where historically they would have migrated. The thought is that global warming is the impetus for the change in behavior.

As to Osprey and Red-tails mixing it up, it's my thought that these battles aren't in the raptors minds about prey. They're about turf, which in turn keeps everyone out who could be a danger to their young or themselves in the natal territory. I can see how an Osprey might take great offense to a Red-tail flyover of their exposed platform nests.

For instance let's say an RT has never seen a Peregrine and has no idea what they eat and therefore lets them stay. And then the Peregrine sneaks in and nabs an eyass. Though as far as I can tell in my bad example, it's the Peregrines who show up and start the fisticuffs. At both the Trump and Cathedral nests, sometimes I'd get the feeling the Peregrine pair would look at each other and say, "Hey it's Tuesday. Isn't this one of our hassle-the-Red-tails-days?"

Of course, as I'm not camped out at the Peregrine nest site to observe, perhaps the Peregrines feel that the Red-tails are infringing on them in some way and they need to show up for payback. I'm sure that given the opportunity a Red-tail may well make a grab at their young as well.

But back to the Osprey, it turns out that, Panadion haliaetus, are the only member of the family Pandionidae. Ready for our word of the day? Because that is the case, Pandionidae is a monotypic family. (Try getting that word into conversation once a day for a week. Could be tough.)

Ospreys are also our only raptor that plunges into the water feet first for fish. Fish seem to be the only food on the Osprey menu and they are quite specialized to get it. They even have adapted feet which give them a better hold on slippery fish.
I'm definitely going to have to try and find a nest to watch come spring! I want to see that feet first plunge.
D. B.


sally said...

donna-ihave been corrected by my friend about the osprey, they are NOT year round here but are nesting and do seem to stay through the summer.

Donegal Browne said...

Thanks, Sally, for passing on the correction.