Bird Lady Blog

January 1, 2016

Birds of Prey

Zone-Tailed Hawk

Zone-Tailed Hawk

The common names for birds of prey are eagles, hawks, falcons, kites, harriers, vultures, and owls.  In ornithology, “bird of prey” has a narrow meaning: those birds with very good eyesight for finding food, strong feet for holding food, and a strong curved beak for tearing flesh.  Most birds of prey also have strong curved talons for catching or killing.  So as I recently discovered, a sea gull, which forages for fish with its beak, would not fall into the bird of prey category, but an osprey, which catches fish with its talons and then rips it apart with a curved beak, would.

In and around Munds Park we have several birds of prey, and I recently spotted a new one while I was golfing (again) one afternoon.  A single bird of prey was soaring above us at the 8th hole of Pinewood County Club, and it got low and close enough for a real good look through my binoculars.  My first thought was that it looked different from our Turkey Vulture, but not that different.  When it got closer I could see a distinctive white band across its tail and broader wings without the distinctive coloration of a Turkey Vulture.  Plus, it was solitary – whereas most of the Turkey Vultures soaring above the Golf Course are in a group.

I pulled out my trusty iPhone and used the bird ap iBird Plus 7.2 and whittled it down to two species:  Common Black-Hawk or Zone-Tailed Hawk.  Both are black-ish, with the underside wing pattern a bit similar to that of a Turkey Vulture, but where they live is different.  The Common Black-Hawk is found primarily in southern Arizona; the Zone-Tailed Hawk, according to my bird aps and books, has a preferred habitat of deep, wooded canyons and mountainous, rugged areas, hunting in grasslands or sparse forests.  So even though I only got one good look at this bird (in between golf shots), I am going to say that it was a Zone-Tailed Hawk.  I can remember what hole I saw the hawk on, but for the life of me I cannot remember what my next golf shot was like.  I guess I have my priorities straight.

Other birds of prey we can see here are Bald Eagles (occasionally spotted soaring or perched on the limbs of a dead tree), Red-Tailed Hawk (the most common hawk in the U.S.), Northern Harrier (I saw one hunting just one time in my 15 years here), Peregrine Falcon (occasionally) and our resident Ospreys.  The Ospreys used to have a nest on the east side of Lake Odell, but for the last two or three years have now built their nest at the top of a tall dead tree to the south of Hole 13 at Pinewood Country Club.   We have seen as many as four Ospreys at a time – presumably the parents and two offspring.  Other golf courses in the area that also have resident Ospreys with nests are Forest Highlands Country Club and Pine Canyon Country Club.

The bird of preys I haven’t seen in Munds Park are any kind of owls.  No sightings, no hearing their hooting – nothing.  I suppose there may be owls here, but for the life of me I don’t know where.  If anyone thinks they have seen or heard an owl, I would be interested in hearing from you.


August 25, 2012


Filed under: Cooper's Hawk,Red-Tailed Hawk — Munds Park Birding @ 3:05 pm
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Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Spend a little time looking up in the sky at the right places and you will mostly see these large soaring birds:  Turkey Vultures, Common Ravens, and American Crows.  If you are lucky, you may also see flying overhead an Osprey or Great Blue Heron.  And if you are very observant, with a little good fortune, you may also spot the Red-Tailed Hawk or even a Cooper’s Hawk.  Both hawks can be seen in Munds Park, but far less often than the other species mentioned here.

A hawk is a raptor, which by definition means it is a bird of prey.  Raptors exhibit a variety of hunting technique and scan the surrounding terrain with telescopic vision.  They can see a mouse wiggle its nose from over 100 yards away.  What makes them unique in the bird world are their hunting skills, their binocular-type vision, and their feet with very strong toes and sharp talons.  Most of their prey die a very quick death, with the raptor’s talons driven into the prey’s body and causing almost instant death.

The Red-Tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in the U.S.  It is a hawk of the open country, so you will most likely see it soaring above the Pinewood Country Club Golf Course or an open meadow or perched on a utility pole along the road. Like its name, a key identifier of this hawk is its red tail, although there are 14 variations of this species and not all have the brick-colored tail.  Red-tailed hawks are monogamous and may mate for life. They make stick nests high above the ground.  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.  Red-tailed Hawks feed on primarily on small mammals.

The second hawk reported in Munds Park is a Cooper’s Hawk.  It was seen in residents’ back yard for a few days in a row, hunting song birds.  These Munds Parkers saw it take at least three birds.  Like the Red-Tailed Hawk, the Cooper’s Hawk is found throughout the United States and has adapted quite well to urban and suburban areas.   It is medium-sized with red eyes and a black cap, with blue-gray upper parts and white under parts with fine thin, reddish bars.  The Cooper’s Hawk appears long-necked in flight when seen soaring above and has been described by birdwatchers as looking like a “flying cross”.  In the open, it flaps, flap, flaps, then glides for a while, and repeats.  These birds capture prey from cover or while flying quickly through dense vegetation, relying almost totally on surprise, and they prey almost exclusively on small to mid-sized birds.  So if you have a bird-feeder or yard that attracts American Robins, Black-Headed Grosbeaks, House Finches, Mourning Doves or Band-Tailed Pigeons, you may be visited by a Cooper’s Hawk that thinks your bird-feeder is its ticket to a daily meal.

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