Thursday, July 12, 2018

Red-Tailed Hawk Accident

The area behind our apartment building has a creek running just behind the community picnic and gathering area.  There is a wide, multi-use pathway that runs alongside the the creek beginning at Iris Avenue, and there is a small city park there named Elmer's Two Mile Creek park.  I thought the creek behind our building was that Creek, but I just found out that it's Boulder White Rock Ditch... Anyway, on the other side of the water, the pathway branches in several directions, and there are quite a few large cottonwood trees that grow back there.  There are squirrel nests in the few trees in our community area; but after we first moved here, I discovered that one of those cottonwoods contains the nest of a family of Red-Tailed Hawks.  Over the past two years, we've seen the next grow, and two sets of fledglings.
   My roommate Beatrice calls both the male and female "Ugly," as a name, and brings the cats in off the balcony as soon as she sees one on the wing.  A youngster lit on the balcony railing last year, and Bea ran out with an ice-scraper for the car's windshield to chase it off.  That ice-scraper is now referred to as"the hawk beater."
   Yesterday morning, about 6:40, there was a loud thump outside, and I looked out my window in time to see one juvenile red tailed hawk hit the pavement on her back.  Beatrice had seen this happen, too.  It had flown into the third story window of the next building.  As I watched, it stretched one leg straight up, the talons curled shut, and the leg slowly went back down.  I thought it had broken either it's neck, or it's back, from either or both impacts.  About five minutes later, I looked out, and both legs were weakly and slowly pedaling, even though the bird was flat it's back.  It wasn't moving at all when I looked again, and I hoped it was finished with it's suffering.
  We were headed out for breakfast at 6:50, and I decided to make sure the poor bird wasn't suffering.  It was still lying flat it's back, on the concrete gutter next to the pavement.  As I stooped down, the bird turned it's head and looked at me.  I thought - "Oh, no.  I'm going to have to make a mercy kill." Then I decided to see what would happen if I got the bird upright.  As soon as I touched its sides, it flipped itself over and upright, mantled its wings at me, and screeched.  I was so very happy!  It had just stunned itself.  It flew away, a little unsteadily, two hours later.  -  A very happy ending.

Red-tailed hawks are the second largest of the Buteos; they have very broad, rounded wings and a short, wide tail.  Large females seen from a distance might make you think you're watching an eagle. In general, both the male and female have a wingspan of 44.5 to 52.5 inches; the females are larger and can be over 25 inches from beak to tail, and weigh up to 3.25 pounds.  The couples mate for life.
  You usually see a red-tailed hawk soaring in wide circles high over an open field.  It is usually a bird of open country, and can be seen along fields and perched on telephone poles, fence posts, or in trees standing alone, or along the edges of a field.  When flapping, their wing beats are heavy.  In high winds, they may face into the wind and hover without flapping, eyes fixed on the ground.  The red-tailed hawks eyes are fixed in place, and it must tilt and turn it's head to look around and see prey.  They attack in a slow, controlled dive, with their legs outstretched to seize their prey with their talons.
  Red-tailed hawks have extremely variable plumage, and some of the variation is quite localized.  Most red-tailed hawks are a rich brown above and pale below, with a streaked belly.  On the underside of the wing, a dark bar can be seen between the shoulder and wrist.  The tail is usually pale below and a cinnamon-red color above, although some are red above and below.  In juvenile birds, the tail is brown and has darker bands.  "Dark-morph" birds are all chocolate brown with a warm red tail.  "Rufous-morph" birds are reddish-brown on their chests and have a dark belly.

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