Aloft at the Museum

If you look skyward while walking the trails through Explore the Wild and Catch the Wind you’re likely to see one of five hawks or vultures which are regular visitors to the Museum.

Turkey Vultures are a daily sight as they soar, dip and bank across the Museum’s airspace.

Note the small head, gray flight feathers, and rather long tail on this Turkey Vulture sailing over the Museum.

The slightly smaller Black Vulture, while seen at least once a week here at the Museum, is not as frequently encountered as the Turkey Vulture.

A short tail, small head, and white or gray primaries (the feathers at the tip of the wings) are trademarks of the Black Vulture. Black Vultures flap their wings more often, and more rapidly, than do their larger relatives, Turkey Vultures.

Hardly a day passes without seeing or hearing a Red-shouldered Hawk at the Museum. They are most often encountered while they’re perched in the woods silently watching below for prey.

A Red-shouldered Hawk sits quietly in the swamp between Catch the Wind and Explore the Wild.

Red-tailed Hawks are seen above at least once a week in winter, but there is a two month period during summer when they may not be seen at all. Whenever they do show up, a Red-shouldered Hawk is often there to greet and escort them out of the airspace.

Although larger and more powerful than Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks are often chased out of the Museum’s airspace by the smaller hawk.
This Cooper’s Hawk was seen January 28th hunting over Catch the Wind.

Copper’s Hawks have successfully nested here at the Museum for the past two years. I see one of these brazen, bushwhacking, aerial hunters nearly every week of the year, certainly every month. Last week was a double; I saw one (most likely the same hawk) on two different days. Each time, the hawk was hunting from above, settling down into the pines north of the Lemur House.

On February 3rd, a tap-tap-tap-taping sound high in a Loblolly Pine in Catch the Wind signaled the workings of a Brown-headed Nuthatch excavating a nest hole. A pair of these tiny pine dwelling nuthatches had dug two holes in a pine not fifty feet from this location last year, only to give it up (or lose it) to a pair of Carolina Chickadees several weeks later.

One nuthatch quickly exits the hole as the other waits to inspect his handywork.

This pair seems to be a bit ahead of themselves. Last year’s nuthatches were first spotted on February 20 as they had just begun excavation. From the apparent depth of the current hole it appears as though they’ve been working on this one for several days, if not more.

I’ll keep you posted on their progress.

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