Wednesday, February 26, 2014

John Blakeman on Belly-bandless Redtails, Toleration of Red-tailed Hawks by Bald Eagles, the Importance of Roadkill Deer to Winter Raptors Plus the Little Walking Bird, Horned Lark

You'll remember the other day I came upon the pair of belly-bandless Red-tails and I thought I might have seen a nest.  As promised I went back to look again.  

In fact once again I found the pair of belly-bandless Red tailed Hawks, one above, but as it was a different time of day and the area where I thought I saw what might be a nest  wasn't back lit, I wasn't able to see the mystery blob in the tree at all. 

 I'll keep looking.
Suddenly the hawk looked over one shoulder, I saw something out of the corner of my eye..
The mate had flown to a new perch.  Look carefully just left of center, partly obscured by a large branch, there's our other band-less buddy.

It seemed to me that previously Ohio Red-tail expert John Blakeman had mentioned that a Red-tailed Hawk without a belly band was an older hawk but I wondered just how much older we were talking about plus one of the hawks had something odd going on with her tail so I wanted John's opinion on that as well.

Time out.  A pictorial memory freshener coming up.

 Here are the pair of Red-tailed Hawks without bellybands.  Also note the tail on the hawk to the right.  See the left red tail feather is shorter than the white undertail plus why is the red showing so clearly from the underside of  the hawk in regards to the feather in question?

Here is another photo from February 20th from a different angle.   The left red feather is still visible and though it may be a peculiarity of the photograph, the top of the tail feathers on the right appear completely white.   


Next, as promised, Mr. Blakeman addresses our questions of the last few days regarding the toleration or non-toleration by Bald Eagles of Red-tailed Hawks in their territory, belly-bandless Red-tails, and his thoughts on the odd tail.

The white-breasted RT in your photos is almost surely a very mature haggard, probably 10 yr+. I've never once seen among all the falconry Red-tails I've encountered a white-breasted, belly-bandless RT of any young or moderate age. In fact, I never recall seeing a pure white-breasted falconry RT; I think because falconry Red-tails seldom live (or are retained) until the second decade.

The tail situation is indiscernible. The feather lengths should be equal in winter, as the molt and new feathers are not progressing.

Cold here again this week, in the mid-20s at day, mid teens at night. Not seeing any winter immatures this year. Only a few experienced haggards who spent the winter here will survive. Persistent snow makes hunting for voles impossible.

RTs, like all the Bald Eagles, will be searching for and feeding on deer roadkill, which is the primary food for winter BEs here on Lake Erie. The lake is essentially frozen over, so no fish can be taken. BEs are surviving (nicely) on roadkill deer.

BEs will from time to time expropriate an RT nest and make it bigger. But the hawks will just go a moderate distance (usually less than half a mile), and build and use a new nest, without any predation or conflict from the eagles.

Different matter in the West with Golden Eagles, who will kill RTs when on prey --- as falconers out there know. Lots of falconry Red-tails killed by Golden Eagles when the hawks are down on newly-caught prey. Bald Eagles pay no attention,

But when I was hunting with my Red-tail, and she saw a Bald Eagle flying along a half-mile away, she stopped hunting and just watched the eagle, until it flew out of vision. Red-tails are always attentive to eagles in their field of view, and they always want to be certain that the eagle expresses no untoward intents; probably a behavior impressed genetically upon the hawks by Golden Eagles.

But Bald Eagles have little interest in pursuing hawks.

--John Blakeman
Many thanks John for sharing your expertise  and I'm glad to hear that Bald Eagles have no urges to do in their Red-tailed neighbors.

Speaking of Eagles enjoying the bounty of road killed deer, some of you will remember that on my previous trip when I first saw the band-less pair, on my way home I saw another Red-tailed Hawk fly up out of the area under a small bridge just outside of town.  I went back to see just what she might have been doing down there and discovered a deer carcass. 
 One of the road killed deer we have just been talking about as a mainstay of  Bald Eagles, also is feeding some of the Red-tailed Hawk population as well as numerous other species. 

Not far from town I saw another Red-tailed Hawk in the sky heading back toward the country. 
 That Red-tail looked similar to the one that had been feeding on the carcass so I stopped again at the little bridge where I had seen the deer carcass previously to have another look.

Where I had seen a complete carcass two days previously, there was nothing but a stain on the snow with dozens of  tracks leading  to it.
 That was fast!
When I went back up, I realized that there were two remnants of the carcass that had been abandoned on the verges of the road. 
 On the right, was an about 8 inch scrap of deer hide.
On the left side of the road lay a single deer hoof.

The rest of the deer had kept many a creature well fed and perhaps in some cases alive for the last 2 cruelly cold days and nights.

Now what was that in the topic line about a little walking bird?

Earlier in the day, while I'd been waiting for the Red-tailed pair to make themselves seen, I'd looked over into the field and seen a smallish brown bird walking amongst the old corn stalks.
 I had no idea beyond an inkling that it was some kind of prairie bird.  Nothing I'd seen in a very long time and I couldn't come up with it.

She reminded me of a Meadowlark, but she wasn't.
She'd been pecking around in that area and suddenly came up with a kernel of corn in her beak.

 She turned to the side and ate it.  
She  then turned back to me with a look that said, "And what do you want?"
Looking down as she did, I too spied the piece of corn laying there.
Then she gave me another version of "What do you want?".  I was bothering her.  I turned away and started flicking through her photographs...what was she?

Then I found a photograph that jogged my memory because it was the only one with the detail I needed for the epiphany and though it was out of focus...
I could still see her horns.  

She's a Horned Lark. 

Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne
P.S.  Stay  tuned, Quicksilver  the African Grey Parrot has started guarding the white chest of drawers and flying at my head when I'm in the laundry room. 

1 comment:

Sally said...

Blakeman may well be correct that all pale belly-bandless RT are older birds, but not all older birds are belly-bandless, for sure. I will be watching more closely for birds of known age and their belly bands. I wonder, does anyone have very early pictures of Pale Male, when he was new in the park those first few years? Would be interesting to compare his belly band as it aged :)