Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Raptors Of The Rolling Hills

 By Joe Brehm
Environmental Education Coordinator
Rural Action

On a typical winter day gallivanting around Appalachian Ohio, it is not uncommon for me to spy four or five different species of raptors. Even just driving from home to work, or from my office to meetings, I have regularly spotted multiple winged hunters along roadsides. The usual suspects are the red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, coopers hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, American kestrel, and the occasional bald eagle.

These five birds of prey range widely in size, habitat, and life history, but have two things in common: they eat meat and are found in Ohio. Red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks are similar in size, diet, and habitat, though differ enough to coexist. Red-tailed hawks generally have one reddish-brown band across an otherwise white breast, and usually have reddish tail feathers. Red-shouldered hawks, however, have mostly reddish orange breasts and striking black tail feathers with white bands. Red-shouldered hawks are typically found more in riparian areas, or near water, and red-tailed hawks are typically perched overlooking fields or roadside meadows. Both eat small mammals, birds, snakes, and red-shouldered hawks have even been observed eating salamanders migrating to and from breeding pools in the spring.

Red-Shouldered Hawk


Coopers and sharp-shinned hawks are perhaps even more similar than the two hawks above. They are Accipiters, a family of hawks with the speed and agility necessary to hurry through dense forests and catch birds in mid-air. They are often seen in suburban or even urban areas, and I have seen both in Glouster and Athens. Coopers hawks are larger and capable of killing birds such as pigeons, or rock doves.

American kestrels are the most common and most colorful species of falcon in North America. They are only slightly larger than a blue-jay, and eat small mammals, insects such as grasshoppers, and birds. They can see in ultra-violet light and the urine of small mammals such as voles appear a bright yellow to these small birds of prey. They can be seen perching on telephone wires or hovering in mid-air above a potential meal during all Ohio seasons.

American Kestrel


Bald eagles have made an extraordinary comeback in Ohio after populations declined severely during the 1960’s and 1970’s. During the winter, bald eagles can be found at or near Lake Logan. They are drawn to the large numbers of ducks that spend the winter there. I occasionally spot adult and juvenile eagles along Route 33 between Logan and Lancaster, usually soaring above the Hocking River. They are also a riparian species of birds, typically nesting near wetlands, lakes, or large rivers. They hunt and scavenge, and can be seen ripping apart deer carcasses during the winter in Ohio.

Drive safely as you find yourself out and about this winter, but keep an eye out for perched or soaring birds of prey that may be right in your backyard.

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