by Bryce W. Robinson
The past few months have been full of incredible encounters with the winged world. Recently I found a young Red-tailed Hawk perched atop a fence post along the roadside. I stopped to photograph the bird, as is my custom. I took notice of the dark coloration of the bird, which always excites me. As is possible in winter, I always get excited about dark Red-tailed Hawks and the possibility that they might be Harlan’s. I recently posted about how to distinguish between dark juvenile Westerns and Harlan’s. As I described, it is easy to see that this is a dark Western, not a Harlan’s. Still, I love the chance to see all of the diversity in the species.
What struck me about this particular bird was not anything dealing with plumage. I noticed a large clump of grass in the birds talons. Chuckling, I passed it off as a missed attempt at some prey, coming away with only a healthy talon full of weeds. I didn’t even raise my binoculars to check. Luckily, the photo tells the story. This young bird was successful in obtaining a morning meal.
It tickles me to find myself with a photo of a bird clutching its prey. The story continues, however. The bird lit off of the pole, headed away from the highway to a more secretive feeding spot. I was taken aback as a large tumbleweed flew with the hawk. I couldn’t help but laugh. In the desperate attempt to glean a morning meal, the youthful raptor grabbed more than its target, and couldn’t risk releasing the extras until it began consuming the meal.
I’ve seen some peculiar and comical behavior from young birds in the past. At the beginning of the migration season, I observed a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk grab a pine cone from a tree. It soared about for some time, regularly checking the object in its talons. One can only speculate as to what this bird was doing, but it was quite the sight, to be sure. These special instances display the character that birds possess, only becoming apparent with detailed observation, too often overlooked.