Sunday, June 30, 2013

Corralitas Drive: Not Typical Red Tailed Hawk Hunting Technique

Photo: Diane Edwardson, June 23, 2013.  Several neighbors & I have witnessed a Red Tailed Hawk walking around on the ground a lot lately.  This seems to be its hunting technique: rooting around the dry grass like a chicken.  (Click on photos to enlarge.)

When I shot these photos, near the Corralitas Public Staircase, I was so far away, I thought it was one of the newly fledged hawks (just left the nest). 
Photo: Diane Edwardson, June 23, 2013.  However, upon editing, it looks more like an adult hawk, possibly one from last year's brood. (One hawk from last year's batch seemed quite content to hang out in the lower branches of trees.  It would fly down to the ground & walk around.)  
On this occasion, the hawk would call to be fed (which is why I thought it was one of the babies) then swoop down to the ground, walk around, looking around, then fly back up to the tree & repeat the whole sequence.  I've never seen this behavior in the wild. 
Photo: Diane Edwardson, June 23, 2013.  I've spent 23 years watching hawks hunt in the neighborhood.  Most of the Red Tails will sight their prey from a high perch & swoop down, catching it by surprise.  If successful, the hawk might spend a few moments on the ground to get control of the prey, before retreating to a high perch to catch their breath before dining.  If unsuccessful, the hawk usually, immediately, takes right off again.  Spending time on the ground makes them vulnerable to predators, like coyotes.
Photo: Diane Edwardson, June 23, 2013.  This Red Tailed Hawk likes to spend a lot of time walking around on the ground, looking around as if it were stalking prey on the ground, mostly on the steep slopes.  (Perhaps its nearsighted.)  In reviewing multiple photos (not all published here), this hawk is definitely looking around confidently, as if it does this all the time.

Regular readers may remember, earlier this year we had a few posts about a Red Tailed Hawk walking around on the ground & flying through heavily branched trees, like native California Black Walnuts.  It may be the same hawk.  This hawk has been hanging around with this year's newly fledged Red Tails. 

In the past 2 weeks, several neighbors report seeing more than one hawk on the ground together.  The chicks are learning this hunting technique from the hawk.  I don't think this is one of the parent hawks as I've seen what appears to be 3 adult birds in addition to the 2 freshly fledged birds hanging around together early mornings on the Red Car Property.
Photo: Diane Edwardson, June 23, 2013.  It revealed its tail (not a fledgling - that's an adult tail - I believe) just before it took off toward the nest at Allesandro & Rosebud.  When I turned, I noticed one of the adult Red Tails was high above me in a nearby Eucalyptus keeping an eye on the proceedings.  There always seems to be an adult around the youngsters.  If this is one of last year's babies, it's good see the parents are still keeping an eye on their slow learner.  It's definitely not starving, despite its odd hunting technique.  Perhaps the parents are supplementing its diet. 
Just because a hawk is on the ground does not mean it is injured.  Stop & observe for a while. It may surprise you. If it is injured, contact a certified raptor rescuer, like the Ojai Raptor Center before you attempt a rescue.