The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

September 28, 2012

Red-tailed hawks always looking for a free meal

The Daily Star

---- — As we drove down from Albany the other day, I was amazed at the number of red-tailed hawks that were in the trees and on the fence posts along Interstate-88.

This is a prime feeding area for these great birds. The grassy roadsides and steeper banks are mowed and alive with rodents and other small creatures. With their overly sharp vision, this stately raptor can spot the slightest movement and swoop down for a tasty meal.

When I was growing up, we referred to these birds as chicken hawks. I’m not sure how many chickens they actually ate, but they were always soaring high overhead. Being some of the larger hawks that found a home on our farm, they surely were capable of killing and eating some of the many white-leghorn chicks that we raised for laying eggs.

I've watched a pair of these beautiful birds all summer. They have a nest farther up on the hill, and I think they raised a pair of chicks again this year. There seemed to be more birds soaring around by mid-summer.

Did you know a hawk chick is actually called an eyas. It’s an old falconry term that's rarely used today.

The red-tailed hawks that hunt in my meadows are not as famous as others of the same species. They’re just plain old country birds from upstate.

The most famous red-tailed hawk is probably one called Pale Male. He shares an apartment building in New York City with Woody Allen. PBS actually did a documentary on this handsome creature, making him quite the celebrity. It’s too bad the poor thing has lived for many years among the concrete skyscrapers, dodging traffic and feeding in Central Park, but he’s actually done a good job of controlling the pigeon population in his area. Pale Male has had several mates over the years and has successfully raised a number of urban chicks.

My farm birds sit in the hedge rows and watch me mow my meadows each summer. As my tractor and bush hog pass, they swoop down and catch moles and voles that scurry through the shortened grass. More often than not, they'll remain at their kill and eat it right there. I drove by one several times as he fed on a young rabbit. He just spread his wings and covered up his dinner until I was several yards away. These birds have learned to adapt and take advantage of my encroachment into their territory.

Other farmers in the area have told me the same thing. Driving the tractor across the field is a little like ringing the dinner bell.

Even though this area is actually a year-round habitat for the red-tailed hawk, I think my hawks actually migrate when the cold and snow arrives. I don’t see them during the winter. They're replaced by a pair of Northern harriers that have shown up for many years.

If you're interested in hawks and their migration, you might want to contact the local Audubon Society and visit the hawk-watching facility of the top of Swart Hollow Road. This is the time of year that these magnificent birds pack their bags and head south.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at