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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote® Freeway Hawks

Air Date: Week of

Red-tailed Hawk in flight. (Photo: Joanne Kamo)

North America’s bustling highways hardly seem an ideal habitat for wildlife, but the grassy medians teem with rodents and other small mammals, creating an ideal hunting ground for the Red-tailed Hawk. Mary McCann reports.


The hawk’s breast is a light taupe color above a band of brown feathers on its belly. (Photo: Mike Hamilton)

CURWOOD: At this time of year, many people are driving on busy roads, travelling to visit family for the holidays. But the frustration of stalled traffic can offer an excellent opportunity to watch an iconic bird that feels right at home along the highway. Here’s Mary McCann with today’s BirdNote®.

Freeway Hawks

[Call of Red-tailed Hawk]

MCCANN: Driving the freeway, [traffic noise] perhaps just inching along in traffic, you happen to glance up to an overhead light post where a large hawk sits in plain view. It’s brown, somewhat mottled; a small head and short tail make it appear football-shaped. It’s a Red-tailed Hawk.

[More calling]

During winter, many Red-tailed Hawks move south, joining year-round resident pairs, to feed on mice, voles, and other small mammals. The freeway’s wide center medians and mowed shoulders offer a mini-habitat of open grassland where Red-tailed Hawks watch for prey. And the light posts, telephone poles, and nearby trees offer excellent viewing perches.

The red tail of the “Red-tail” may be hard to see, since folded wings often cover it. If your view is of the bird’s front, watch for a dark bellyband across the lower part of a pale chest. If your view is of the back, try to observe a white spotted “V” in the center of the back. You’ll see the red tail when it flies.
Perhaps a bit of freeway bird watching may ease the frustration of slow traffic, so watch for this bulky football of a hawk. Once Red-tails find a successful hunting area, they return often.

I'm Mary McCann.

[Repeat calling]

The hawk has a spotted “V” pattern on its back and a red tail peeks out from beneath its wings. (Photo: Andrew Reding)

Written by Frances Wood
Call of the Red-tailed Hawk provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.A. Keller
BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org December 2014 Narrator: Mary McCann


CURWOOD: You’ll find pictures of these chunky raptors at our website, LOE.org. Coming up...a trip to the Gulf coast, which has an ambitious and pricey plan to bring back land lost to the sea. That's just ahead on Living on Earth. Stay tuned.



For more on Red-tailed Hawks, visit BirdNote’s page

Listen, see and read more on the Red-tailed Hawk, its lifecycle and its history


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