Top Photo: Unidentified large brown bird.
You’re walking along the path. The low mid-morning sun is bright and shining directly into your face. A large bird flies by and catches your eye. It lands high up in a tree some fifty or so yards away. Branches restrict your view and the bird is facing away from you.
When you first spotted the bird you thought it was a hawk. But which hawk? red-shouldered (the most common hawk in the area)? red-tailed, a common local nester? or Cooper’s hawk (another local nester but not as common as the others)?
The top image doesn’t help much to identify the bird, except to confirm it’s a hawk. Like the image above, the enlargement below shows the bird’s talons on its left foot. It’s a predator for sure.
But barred owls, the local nesting owl species, also have sharp curved talons and are sometimes seen during daylight hours, especially when crows rouse them from their diurnal slumber.
However, the next two images nail it down for being a hawk, very specifically.
In the second shot you can see the bird’s face and its curved flesh-tearing predator bill. The clincher though, is the red tail feathers, visible in both images.
There’s only one hawk (or owl) in our area with a brick-red tail. As if you needed further confirmation, this bird is, without a doubt, a red-tailed hawk.
Red-tailed hawks nest on the museum’s campus. There’s a large loblolly pine on the east boundary of the south-side parking lot. The nest is at the very top of the pine. Red-shouldered hawks historically nest on the north side of the campus while the red-tailed hawks reign over the south.
Courtship is currently underway.