Monday, August 9, 2010

Swainson's Hawks Here Today!

This picture of a Swainson's Hawk is from FlickR (Wikimedia Commons) and, judging from its size relationship to the fence post it is standing on, it seems less than half as big as the pair that came to my yard today.

About 7 to 10 days ago, one of these birds landed just outside the chain link fence in my yard. I was so flabbergasted at its size that I could not remain calm enough to start making a positive I.D. One of my dogs started raising such a ruckus that the bird immediately flew. Because it was so large, I thought it might even be an eagle.

Just now, a pair of these birds landed in the dirt road just past my fence. I am still overwhelmed at their size. My books say that the female, which is larger than the male, is 20 to 22 inches long, but I thought she looked bigger than that. These are definitely the largest birds that take flight that I have ever met in person. They may look especially large because their legs are long so they stand tall. The wingspan is 4-1/4 feet. 

Because I offer large puddles of fresh water (and a basin too, but they prefer the mud puddles), I always have a lot of birds here. There were Mockingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, White Wing Doves, Eurasian Collared Doves, House Sparrows, Grackles, Finches, Bullock's Orioles, Lark Sparrows, Western Kingbirds, and a Curve-Billed Thrasher all jockeying for places in the water just before the two hawks landed.

I didn't see one of them catch it, but there was definitely a small bird in its talons and it began eating it while still in my yard.

Below are two more views (Wikimedia, Megan McCarty) but they do not show how huge these birds are. (I started worrying about my little Shih Tzu, who was outside under the porch.) Swainson's Hawks eat rodents, snakes, small birds, and insects.

I could hear the call they made and it was a familiar sound that I had heard in Western movies a number of times over the years, a very distant-sounding "Keeeaar."

I hate that one of my regulars had to be breakfast, but the hawks have to survive too. I never know if my feeding and making water available makes an unlevel playing field, but I do know that with our 100- to 104-degree temps, some would heat stroke and die without the water.

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