California Nature

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California Hawks
red tailed hawks enjoy California natureHawks are carnivores (meat eaters) that belong to the category of birds known as raptors, birds of prey. They have strong, hooked beaks; their feet have three toes pointed forward and one turned back; and their claws, or talons, are long, curved and very sharp. Prey is killed with the long talons and, if it is too large to swallow whole, it is torn to bite-sized pieces.

Based on general body shape and flight habits, hawks are classified into different groups: the most common being the Accipiters and the Buteos. The Sharp-shinned Hawk, the Cooper's Hawk and the Goshawk are Accipiters. They have long tails and short, rounded wings that enable them to dart through and around trees in pursuit of other birds, their principal prey. Typically, they fly low with a series of rapid wing beats followed by a brief period of sailing, then another series of wing beats. Accipiters are associated with brush and timbered areas. The Buteos are the largest of the hawks. They are the broad-winged, broad-tailed soaring hawks that are more readily seen because of their habit of circling high in the air or perching in dead trees or on telephone poles along the road. They include the Red-tailed, the Red-shouldered, the Swainson's, the Rough-legged and the Ferruginous hawks.

The red-tailed hawk is the most common member of the genus Buteo found in the U.S. An opportunistic feeder, this hawk will take almost anything as prey but it is most successful in pursuit of rodents. In fact rodents make up about 85% of their diet. Although common in many areas, the red-tailed hawk is declining in many areas due to habitat loss, egg shell thinning due to pesticides and especially due to conflict with humans. The Red-tailed hawk ranges throughout North America to central Alaska and northern Canada, and south as far as the mountains of Panama. Although not truly migratory, they do adjust seasonally to areas of the most areas of the most abundant prey. Red-tailed hawks are known for their brick-colored tails, but there are 14 subspecies of various colorations, and not all of them have this characteristic.

These birds of prey are also known as buzzard hawks and red hawks. Red tailed hawks are keen-eyed and efficient hunters. Red-tails prefer open areas, such as fields or deserts, with high perching places nearby from which they can watch for prey. But these birds are adaptable and also dwell in mountains and tropical rain forests. Hawks have even embraced human habitats. The Red tailed hawk often perches on telephone poles and takes advantage of the open spaces along the roadside to spot and seize mice, ground squirrels, rabbits, reptiles, or other prey. Red-tailed hawks are monogamous and may mate for life. They make stick nests high above the ground, in which the female lays one to five eggs each year. Both sexes incubate the eggs for four to five weeks, and feed the young from the time they hatch until they leave the nest about six weeks later.

soaring red tailed hawks look for foodRed Shouldered Hawks are found in moist open forests, bottomlands and other wet lands throughout most of California. It is perhaps the most vocal American hawk. The hawk eats a variety of prey including small mammals, birds, frogs, snakes, lizards, snails and insects. The Red-shouldered Hawk is divided into five subspecies. The four eastern forms contact each other, but the West Coast form is separated from the eastern forms by 1600 km (1000 mi). The northern form is the largest. Although the American Crow often mobs the Red-shouldered Hawk, sometimes the relationship is not so one-sided. They may chase each other and try to steal food from each other. They may also both attack a Great Horned Owl and join forces to chase the owl out of the hawk's territory. Sharp-shinned hawks can be found throughout much of North America, including Mexico. In South America, they are found from Venezuela to northern Argentina. Most of the North American populations migrate to the southern parts of their range in winter. Sharp-shinned hawks are forest birds. They are found in pine, fir and aspen forests (among others). They can be found hunting in forest interior and edges from sea level to near alpine areas.

Sharp-shinned hawks can also be found near rural, suburban and agricultural areas, where they often hunt at bird feeders. Sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest hawks in North America. Males are 24 to 27 cm long and weigh 87 to 114 g. Females are larger, measuring 29 to 34 cm in length and weighing 150 to 218 g. Males have a wingspan of 53 to 56 cm and females 58 to 65 cm. Sharp-shinned hawks have bluish-gray to slate colored upperparts, with darker coloration on the crown. Their underparts are white with brown bars and their short, rounded wings are dark above and light below. Females have fewer bars on the breast, and their upper parts are more brownish. Sharp-shinned hawks have a short, dark colored, hooked beak and yellow legs and feet. Their tail is square-tipped when not spread and has three to five dark stripes with a small white stripe on the tip.

The Harris Hawk, formerly known as the Bay-winged Hawk or Dusky Hawk, is a medium-large bird of prey which breeds from the southwestern United States south to Chile and central Argentina. Birds are sometimes reported at large in Western Europe, especially Britain, but it is a popular species in falconry and these records almost certainly all refer to escapes from captivity. The diet consists of small creatures including birds, lizards, mammals, and large insects. Because it will hunt in groups, the Harris's Hawk can also take down larger prey, such as jackrabbits. While most raptors are solitary, only coming together for breeding and migration, Harris's Hawks will hunt in cooperative groups of two to six. This is believed to be an adaptation to the desert climate in which they live. In one hunting technique, a small group flies ahead and scouts, then another group member flies ahead and scouts, and this continues until prey is bagged and shared. In another, all the hawks spread around the prey and one individual flushes it.

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