Why they are called Red-tailed. It looks like a red/orange beacon in the sky when the sun shines through. They are amazing birds, and usually fly very high. This one is in circle flight above my head in these photos. That usually means it is after something in the area below. I must have been standing very near its quarry and did not know it. You can see in the last photo it is looking down at me. I just happen to be too big a meal.
This got me wondering how prey sees that bright, glowing tail circling above. If you saw my post on the Sharp-shinned feeding on a starling, you saw that hawk looking skyward at every passing ground shadow. Chances are, it was looking for a predator much bigger than itself. Funny, but it did not think I was a predator since I got very, very close to it.
Big hawks like the Red-tailed do not swoop down from high altitudes to get the prey, but hunt from trees. From way up, they are surveying the area to see if it looks promising. Hunting from high in a tree was what this one was doing before it left the tree after seeing me. I suspect it had its sights on something tasty right before I appeared. Anyway…what was I starting to say…
Oh, that bright tail…
I read where a Red-tailed can spot a mouse at 100 feet, but can the mouse see it? Everyone knows raptors such as hawks have marvelous vision, but mice don’t, seeing maybe four feet in front of themselves. Image below from the September 18th post. I found these hawks are a bit more difficult to photograph and thought you might like to see its eye close up.
But I bet the mice see the menacing shadow thrown by a raptor as it grows bigger around them. The other day I saw a Red-tailed flying right in front of me carrying a mouse. Being a cloudy day, that mouse missed a cue unfortunately.
That would have been a great photo had I not been driving at the time. In fact, the bird almost was roadkill flying so low and close. I doubt I could see a mouse at 100 feet. The one the hawk gripped I saw perfectly, tiny tail swinging in the wind.
I have been seeing hawks quite a bit lately and even saw a Red-shouldered hawk also while driving. Spring is breeding time for them and a time of migration, so maybe I will get lucky and be able to photograph many more.
I have to admit, the question of what prey sees of raptors still is bugging me. This hawk is a generalist on what it chooses to dine, so I do know other birds with sharp vision can see it coming (except that poor starling in my last hawk post), but what about most mammal prey? Makes me wonder if the odds are stacked against them.
Rabbits always seem to find out they are being pursued at the last second. Those big ears might hear well, and the big, cute eyes on the sides of their head see movement easily, but they get snatched quite often. At least they are speedy though.
So my deduction is that sight is the domain of the raptors and the other senses help the prey. Any thoughts? I have to ask my birding friends this question. What advantage does the prey have?
I really don’t like being eyed up as dinner. I wonder if his mouse was hiding behind me?
Next, a short post on Monday night, A Bird I Did Not See in Twenty Years. And the funny story why I did. OK maybe not funny for the bird, but it was funny to the guy telling me why I saw one.