More Unexpected Behavior

When temperatures are bitter and the ground is covered in deep, crusty snow, life is difficult for all fauna – including Leonard and me. Thankfully we have a warm house and are more inconvenienced by the weather. Unfortunately other mammals and birds are not as fortunate. This is a very stressful time for them. As a consequence we continue to observe unusual behavior from our furred and feathered friends.

Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), like most raptors, prefer to catch their own food with a diet consisting mainly of small mammals including mice, voles, gophers and small rabbits. Red tails will also take birds, reptiles, amphibians and some insects. The literature generally agrees that red-tailed hawks rarely feed on carrion. Although bald and golden eagles, magpies and vultures quickly move in on road kills and other carrion, Leonard and I do not recall ever seeing red-tailed hawks feeding on carrion in our area.

We recently saw a  sub-adult red-tail eating a bird in the snow near one of our pastures – definitely unexpected behavior. This was not a fresh kill because the undisturbed carcass had been in the same spot the previous day. Apparently the cold temperatures and deep snow had an impact on this hawk and it turned to carrion for survival. It amazes me that any birds survive the harsh weather.

Red-tailed hawks are adaptable birds. Although most red tails  usually eat prey that they  catch live, occasionally those hawks, living near chicken or turkey processing plants where dead poultry is sometimes discarded on trash heaps or in other situations where some form of carrion is readily available, will eat the carcases even when they are not under any stress or unusual energy demands.

This sub-adult red-tailed hawk was photographed as it scavenged the dead bird in our lane (Modoc County CA).

Hopefully the weather will break soon!

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3 Responses to More Unexpected Behavior

  1. Pingback: Mantling | The Nature Niche

  2. If he was that hungry, I’m glad the dead bird was there for him! At least in the cold it probably wasn’t too rotten. Bad weather will be toughest on the young, inexperienced raptors. Hope he makes it.

    I haven’t heard of many predators that won’t take carrion if they have to. Even humans – I read an interview once with a man from a very poor village somewhere in Africa; the interviewer said: “If you found a dead monkey, what would you do?” (wanting the man to say he would leave it, because monkeys are especially likely to carry diseases that humans can get, and an already-dead monkey might have died from disease) and the man said “I would eat it and be very glad to not be starving.”

    • gingkochris says:

      I am pulling for this hawk too. Actually there is a young red-tail hanging around in our trees and it might be the same one. I did not mean to imply that a red-tail would not take carrion. – just that in my experience it is unusual. The urge to survive in all animals is strong!

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