Sheltered Red-Tailed Hawk

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Last Sunday morning, while driving around in agricultural country, I observed a Red-tailed Hawk ensconced in a large tree.  The hawk was partially concealed among the tree’s branches.  Trees are few and far between in the area that I was driving through.  Hawks, on the other hand, are plentiful.   Most of the time, I see them perched on high, exposed objects such as utility poles.

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This certainly isn’t the perch that a Red Tail typically would choose if it is on the lookout for prey.  Red Tails love the unobstructed view presented by high, isolated perches.  They are primarily ambush hunters whose preferred technique of hunting is to descend on some unsuspecting rodent that is foraging on the ground.  These hawks use their incredibly sharp vision to spot movement from their high perches.  In agricultural country utility poles afford these birds a better view than does a large tree with many vision-obscuring branches.

So, why was it perching among the branches of this tree?  I can think of three possible explanations.  First, it may have just eaten and it wanted a quiet and secure perch on which to digest its breakfast.  Second, the tree may be a possible nest tree.  Red Tails use trees like this one and their sheltering branches as sites for their nests.  It is courtship and mating season for Red Tails in southern Arizona, and these birds are beginning to return to their traditional nest sites.  It’s possible that this bird was awaiting its mate or guarding the tree against other hawks that might covet it for a breeding site.  The third possibility is that the hawk had overnighted in the tree and was still in the process of waking up.  Although Red Tails are predators, and very powerful ones at that, they are not at the apex of avian predation.  That position is reserved for Great Horned Owls.  A Great Horned Owl would not hesitate to snatch a sleeping Red Tail from an exposed perch.  So, maybe, this tree is this hawk’s safe haven.

Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 400, f8 @ 1/1000.

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