The Bird Corner

Nominating the red tailed hawk

Fri, 08/21/2020 - 2:00pm

Block Island has always been a wonderful spot to go birding, not only because the island is an important stopover during migration, but due to the many species that live here.

At the Block Island School, we are following the tradition started by Elizabeth Dickens, who began the bird program at the School in the early 1900s. We are grateful to Kim Gaffett for continuing it.

Each year, Mrs. Szabo includes a bird unit in her fourth grade class, and asks her students to choose a bird they think will best make the “Block Island Bird of the Year.” Through nature walks, bird banding with Miss Gaffett, and research, each student chose a bird they believe best represents Block Island.

This is the tenth in a series

The red tailed hawk soars across a field, sees a female hawk, and swoops down to pick up a vole. He then flies straight up into the air making a screeching sound, and tosses the vole to the female. The red tailed hawk has found his mate. The red tailed hawk prefers high perches. They build their big nests out of sticks and twigs on trees and telephone poles. Corn Neck Road is a great part of the island for red tailed hawks because there are a lot of tall telephone poles for them to perch on and look for their prey. There are also a lot of open fields and ponds where their prey is lurking. I know of four red tailed hawks that have been spotted down along the Neck, so if you want a chance to spot one, the Neck is a good place to look. The red tailed hawk is a good bird to represent Block Island because we have the perfect environment to provide them with a good home and plenty of food to eat.

The red tailed hawk, or the buteo jamaicensis, is unique and stands out because of the classic white V on their back. This hawk is a large raptor with a wing span of 46 to 58 inches, and they can reach up to 26 inches in height. The adults have dark brown on their backs, their breasts are white, their sides are streaked and they have a brick red tail. The red tailed hawk has yellow legs and feet. Its bill also has a little bit of yellow on it and the tip of its bill is black. The hawk likes to nest in open woodlands, plains, deserts, farmlands, and prairies like you see on Block Island. They build large nests 75 to 120 feet up in the trees. Sometimes they build them on telephone poles, cliffsides, or on tall buildings. Their nests are made of mostly sticks and twigs, and the female usually lays one to five eggs in their clutch. The red tailed hawks eggs are white with sparsely marked specks of brown and they incubate for 29 to 35 days. The downy young leave the nest 45 days after hatching, which is about six to seven weeks old. The runts may stay with their parents for about two to three more weeks. The mom remains with her young in the nest, while the male hunts for food. Sometimes the red tailed hawk’s screeching call is used for bald eagle sounds in movies. If you hear a high pitched screech, look high up in the air for a large white V.

During mating season, the male red tailed hawk catches its prey and throws it to the female mid-air to attract it, showing how intelligent and clever they are. Seventy-five percent of their diet is small birds, the rest of their diet is made up of small mammals such as rats and mice. They also like to eat reptiles, large insects, voles, rabbits, birds up to the size of a pheasant, bats, toads, and frogs. They hunt from high perches or fly over the fields to spot their prey. If they find big prey they eat part of it on the ground and then bring the rest back to their perch. They are most commonly found in North America and Central America year round. They travel solo sometimes, but when they’re not traveling solo they are with their family or their young. In the summer they live in North America, Canada, and Alaska. In the winter some migrate to South and Central America.

Seeing a red tailed hawk on Block Island would be really exciting. You can spot them because of their unique brick red tail and white V on its back. They are big birds with a wide wing span and hunt over fields and ponds, so be sure to look up while on the Neck or on the West Side, where there are a lot of open fields and land.