On the trail of the red tail hawk

The News (New Glasgow) - - PICTOU COUNTY - Don Ma­cLean

I like to keep an eye out for wildlife while I am driv­ing and lately I’ve been see­ing a lot of ac­tiv­ity.

A few days be­fore Christ­mas I counted 20 deer while driv­ing from New Glas­gow to Antigo­nish so the deer herd looks like it is in pretty good shape head­ing into the win­ter.

I’ve also been see­ing a lot of red­tailed hawks. Ev­ery time I drive from Pic­tou to New Glas­gow I see two or three perched in trees or on power poles along the road.

The red-tailed hawk is our most com­mon hawk in Nova Sco­tia and it is a pretty im­pres­sive bird. They range from 50 to 60 cen­time­tres in length with a wing­span of around a me­tre. Adult birds weigh up to 1.5 kilo­grams, with fe­male birds be­ing up to 25 per cent larger than males, and can be rec­og­nized by the rusty red tails. Red tails can be found through­out the prov­ince and they range from across Canada down through the United States to Cen­tral Amer­ica and the Caribbean.

Gen­er­ally, younger red tails mi­grate south in the fall to ar­eas where there is less snow so hunt­ing will be eas­ier. Older adult birds re­main, how­ever, and are of­ten joined by other red-tailed hawks which mi­grate here from farther north. Dur­ing the spring, sum­mer and fall, red tails pre­fer hunt­ing over old fields and open ar­eas where they can tar­get their favourite prey, ro­dents such as mice, voles and squir­rels. These open ar­eas al­low the red tails to use their favourite hunt­ing meth­ods of soar­ing in wide cir­cles over the land, or perch­ing in trees along the edge. Red tails have a var­ied diet which al­lows them to eat other items if ro­dents are scarce. Prey in­cludes snakes, frogs and small birds. Dur­ing the win­ter, larger hawks may also tar­get snow­shoe hares and ruffed grouse.

When I was grow­ing up, red tails were called chicken hawks, and the sight of one in the area would re­quire gath­er­ing up the hens and shut­ting them in the chicken coop. Their abil­ity as hunters, along with the fact that they are fairly nu­mer­ous through­out their range and are eas­ily trained, have made red-tailed hawks the pre­ferred bird for use in fal­conry.

Red tails mate for life and their nests are usu­ally lo­cated in hard­wood trees. The nests are fairly large and are built of sticks and branches which they line with grass and leaves.

The same nest is used ev­ery year, un­less it is taken over by great horned owls, which have a pref­er­ence for us­ing their nests. If that hap­pens, the hawks sim­ply build a new one. Fe­males lay up to four eggs which they in­cu­bate for about a month, with the young hatch­ing in May. The adults share in feed­ing the young for a month and a half be­fore they can be­gin feed­ing on their own.

Red tails are a beau­ti­ful bird and it is a real treat to see them. I hope you spot one this win­ter.

Don Ma­cLean is an out­door writer and bi­ol­o­gist who lives in Pic­tou County. ©2019 Don Ma­cLean


Red-tailed hawks are very pop­u­lar in Nova Sco­tia and can of­ten be seen fly­ing the skies.

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