Saturday, November 08, 2008

Red-tails and What Prey is That?

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert
Cheryl Cavert of Tulsa has had some very hot days of hawkwatching of late,

And R. of Illinois after seeing her photos wanted to know just what this hawk was eating. Many thanks to Cheryl for taking these wonderful photos which make great examples as to what to look for when hoping to identify prey. She was wondering if perhaps this was a Grackle. It's about the right size and those wings look about the right color.

First step: Is it feathers are fur? In this case, feathers. Dark flight feathers.

(Is it a Grackle?)
Second step: Can you see feet or beak? Feet, with longish toes.

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert
Ah ha! Feet pale in color.

And that tells you what? That it isn't a Grackle as they don't have pale feet.

But what else is apparent as the hawk continues the meal. There are pale gray feathers. Is that not a keel bone? Yes, and therefore those are likely pale gray breast feathers.

Can you think of a native bird this size with these characteristics.

1. Light gray breast

2. Dark primaries

3. Lighter secondaries, in mid-gray range (see photo)

4. Pale feet, not yellow or black.

I can't. That's Columba livia, a pigeon.

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert

As I was scrutinizing the prey, I saw something that might help identify this hawk the next time she appears.

Look past the prey feathers to the hawk's eye. Instead of having a much paler "eyebrow" like many hawks do, she has a white streak under her eye and not on top. That isn't all that common in the Red-tails I've seen though it could be different in Tulsa.

Folks of the Tulsa Forum? Is that the case?

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert
Look at that stuffed crop and compare with her crop in the first photo. It looks quite full there but even fuller here as she kept eating. Was that a particularly meaty pigeon or is this a second on top of a first. Is she feeding up these days in preparation for breeding season?

At least in NYC there is often a bumper crop of young pigeons hatched in October and off the nest by November. Some without much savvy in the ways of hunting hawks. Though one rarely sees a crop that full unless it is a well fed growing eyass, who needs many many calories to grow that rapidly.

Perhaps we just haven't noticed the formels doing it in earlier in the season prepping for those eggs that have to be produced.


Autumn foliage with mallards--Yet another wonderful photograph and Central Park moment captured by the indomitable Eleanor Tauber

And here, one of the telling field marks cuing us that we're looking at House Finches and not Purple Finches. Do you know what it is?

See the back of the bird's head who is upside down? Instead of the vivid scarlet seen on the front and top of the male's head, the back of his head is more similarly pigmented to that of his back. Therefore--House Finch.

(Sorry about the eyes from the flash. My editing program isn't up to demon cat eyes. )

We're currently working on "this is my food" and that "is your food". Being a stray the smell of food currently sets her off out of habit though she has a big bowl of cat chow to indulge in anytime she wants some and the food panic is getting better. She's no dummy.

She sleeps next to me and if I sit down she invariably jumps into my lap for a nap. The bad spells occur if I have to leave the house to do an errand. By the time I return she is under the bed, meowing pitifully, and doesn't come out unless coaxed.

But I've no doubt this kitty is going to be just fine eventually.

Donegal Browne


sally said...

What a beautiful kitty Pye is! Is she missing her jaunts outside? My parents, in their 80's God love them, recently adopted a stray from the neighborhood and this cat is insisting on being outside, pacing and meowingat the door and windows and sometimes getting agitated enough to go up to my Mom and nip her leg to say let me out! She is not content to sit at the full-pane patio door and mew at the birds outside as my cats do. I say she will get over if they ignore her meowing, play with her and give her lots of toys. I've told them how bad it is for both cat and wildlife to let her out but, they are insistent that she is meant to be outside. Any suggestions? I suggest my parents are more stubborn than the cat but then I don't want them bitten either.

Anonymous said...

Donna, Pye is beautiful. Through our experience here, she doesn't seem to be a true feral cat, though perhaps an outdoor cat,who is lost or was abandoned. How great for both her and the birds that you took her in.
Betty Jo

Donegal Browne said...

Betty Jo,

I don't think that Pye is feral either. Particularly now that I've brought her in and she's such a lap cat.

Out of curiousity, even though when a human appeared she ran for it and shot into one of Fluffy the opossums only holes, I decided to test her for feralness. One day when Pye was about half way across the yard, I pulled out a box of cat chow, opened the glass door a crack, stuck it out, and rattled it. Pye, stopped dead and turned around to look.

Ah ha! Feral cats don't recognize the sound of a box of cat chow.

I have checked to see if anyone is looking for Pye, but found nothing. And actually as some of Pye's reactions lead me to believe that she may have been abused, I'm just as happy I didn't find anyone looking for her.

Karen Anne said...


With the various kitties I have had over the years, some of the ones who have been fending for themselves outside do initially want to go outside, even when they were doing awfully out there in terms of not enough food, getting hurt in fights with other cats, etc.

It normally took them a few weeks of not going out to get used to the inside.

I think that is so much better, not only for the birds, but, as you note, for the cat, and for the owner too. With an indoor-only kitty, there won't be any times when the kitty doesn't come home for hours or perhaps days (or perhaps never) and your parents are worrying themselves sick that she's been hurt.

Have they taken her to the vet for a checkup, to make sure nothing is bothering her?

I did have one cat who initially nipped at ankles, but he was a male and that stopped 2-3 weeks after he had been altered.

Another kitty, a female, used to nip in general to begin with, but someone suggested that I "cry" quietly when she did that (not enough to scare her, but enough to get across what I was doing so that she'd realize nipping hurt, since other cats have some protection with their fur and so a little nip to a human hurts more), and after a few times of that she stopped nipping. I used to lick the nipped area like a cat would for good measure :-)

I'll add that when I lived in a suburban area, I think every friend who told me their pet cats should have access to the outdoors was heartbroken within the next 2-3 years because their pet had been hit by a car.

Donegal Browne said...

My response to Sally's comment on the post for November 10, 2008, PREDATORS IN THE HOUSE.