Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Red-Tailed Hawk in Residence
I have always had a fascination for hawks and red-tailed hawks in particular. I could sit and watch them as they soar high above in ever widening circles trying to catch an up-draft. They seemingly soar, effortless for hours when winds are favorable.
Red-tailed hawk - "Buteo jamaicensis". The Red-tailed Hawk ranges throughout North America to central Alaska and northern Canada, and south as far as the mountains of Panama. Although not truly migratory, they do adjust seasonally to areas of the most abundant prey . In winter many of the northern birds move south.
A red-tailed hawk weighs between 2-4 pounds and is between 17 and 22 inches in length with a wing span up to 56 inches. A red-tailed hawk reaches sexual maturity at 3 years of age. Mating season is early spring and the female lays from 1 to 3 eggs with an incubation period of 28-32 days.
The life span of a red-tailed hawk is from 10-21 years. Hawks are carnivores (meat eaters) and belong to the category of birds known as raptors. Their diet usually consists of small rodents and snakes. They are attracted to the cemetery because of the abundance of rabbits and squirrels. The eye sight of a red-tailed hawk is eight times as powerful as that of a human.
The Red-tailed Hawk is usually found in grasslands or marsh-shrub habitats, but is very adaptable bird, being equally at home in center city Allentown. It is not known where the red-tailed hawk or hawks that frequent the cemetery have their nest, but they are almost daily visitors to the cemetery, particularly when one of the volunteers are in the cemetery cutting grass. They wait in the trees for the riding mower to scare up a rabbit and then swoop down and invariably snag a meal. Gross? Perhaps, but it is the law of the land, the nature of things and we must accept them as such. Besides, we couldn't do anything about it, even if we wanted to. Isn't "Google" wonderful? You can find such interesting and informative information just by inputting words like "Red-Tailed Hawk".
I have observed, what I believe to be, a male hawk on a number of occasions in the cemetery. At times I was totally unaware of his presence in the trees that parallel my section of the cemetery until, much to my surprise, I inadvertently scared up a rabbit as I mowed the grass. The rabbit skittering out from between stones was enough to scare the life out of me, but then to have a red-tailed hawk swoop down across in front of me was a double shock. Only on a rare occasion has the red-tailed hawk failed to capture his prey.
On one occasion, a hawk flew into a dead tree and perched on a limb in full view as I cut grass along Liberty Street. As I worked my way, row by row from east to west toward twelfth Street, it sat patiently in the tree, just waiting and watching. Ultimately, I was cutting the rows directly underneath the limb upon which the hawk was perched. The only movement was the head as it observed my movements. It sat in that tree without moving for a full 45 minutes. When I finished that section and moved on to another section, it also moved to a tree closer to my new position. Smart? You bet! The hawk or hawks, as the case may be, position themselves in nearby trees when they hear the lawn mowers. They instinctively know that the lawn mower might scare up some small rodent if they are patient.
Unfortunately, I usually do not carry a camera with me when cutting grass and, as a result, miss numerous opportunities to photograph the red-tailed hawk(s) that inhabits our cemetery. Just this past Monday, September 18, I was cutting a section of cemetery when a hawk swooped down and perched on a nearby monument. It was not very far away from my position and it would have been a wonderful photograph. But I did not have a camera. I rapidly departed to go to my truck to get my camera, but alas, the hawk did not wait for my return.
Today, Tuesday, September 19, 2006, I had finished cutting grass and was driving through the cemetery intent on taking photographs of unusual tombstones for a future post, and as I looked up beyond the tombstone I was photographing, there it was, majestically sitting on the top of a stone not far away. It was if he or she realized that I had missed an opportunity and now it was being accommodating, allowing me to approach to get a decent shot of the red-tailed hawk that inhabits our cemetery.
I can't wait to see the tombstone photos.
I have several relatives buried here, including Mayor Samuel McHose (I'm descended from his brother Isaac).
Keep up the good work!
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