Birds | Nature | Wildlife

The Methodical Hunt of Red-Tailed Hawks

Treading water on an early morning swim and looking up to sky, I observed a pair of red-tailed hawks moving across the landscape in a coordinated hunt.  It was an impressive display, with one hawk working to spook prey into revealing themselves and the other perched nearby ready to pounce on the unsuspecting victim.  A methodical dance of deadly consequences for some prey yet to be determined.  This was clearly part of the act I saw last week when a hawk landed on the umbrella, but I’d only seen half the story then.  I was grateful I was a bit larger than they felt they could take on.  When you see a pair of hunters working the neighborhood, you wonder how any squirrel, chipmunk or rabbit survives long enough to reproduce.  This was a highly coordinated, efficient operation in action, and I came away deeply impressed.

Red-Tailed Hawks are also known as “chicken hawks” because they wreak havoc on chickens, ducks and other domestic birds.  The name is a bit of a misnomer, but makes me think of the cartoon character I grew up watching, always trying to take on the much bigger rooster Foghorn Leghorn.  But watching them hunt made me realize they’re much more like the Velociraptors hunting the kids in Jurassic Park.  But then again, they’re direct descendants of dinosaurs, so it makes sense they’d hunt in such a way.  Velociraptors were the most bird-like of all the dinosaurs, and I saw the similarity immediately watching that pair of hawks (at least to the movie version).

Red-Tailed Hawks tend to hunt solo most of the time, but when you see a pair hunting together it generally means that they’re mates or siblings or its a parent teaching the kiddos to kill their own meals.  These were adults, so I’m guessing they were mates.  What’s more romantic than hunting small animals together in a choreographed dance along the edge of the woods?  If you read about these hunters, the details of the prey can be gruesome, which I’ll spare you from here.  They live a life of noble pursuit, not killing for sport but for food.  Humans could learn a few things watching them.

When my dog was younger we had this game of hide and seek we’d play, where I’d take his favorite fuzzy dice and throw them into a different room for him to fetch.  While he was chasing them down I’d quickly run out of the room and hide.  He’d come back, realize I was gone and excitedly bounce up and down like a reindeer, and the hunt would be on.  He’d check room after room looking for me, and when he found me we’d celebrate with a big human and Labrador hug.  Those games of hide and seek would get my heart rate way up into anaerobic territory and I’d find myself out of breath when the game went on for any length of time.  I was the “prey” in those games, but all in fun.  I can’t imagine being prey in a real life and death hunt, and I’m grateful to live in a time when I can casually observe the hunt of hawks.  With a few notable exceptions that quickly make the news, we generally don’t have to worry about animals hunting us down.  More often than not its other humans we have to worry about, and even then its becoming increasingly safe to coexist in the world with others.  I took a moment to appreciate that as I watched the methodical dance of Red-Tailed Hawks.

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