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George Little: Keep an eye on hawks

February 26, 2012 at 09:23 PM

The State Journal-Register

Last week, I saw two red-tailed hawks sitting back to back in the top of the same tree.

My first thought was that they looked like two people who were on the outs and not speaking to each other, yet wanting to remain close in case someone swallowed his or her pride and broke the deafening silence.

In reality, this team hunting approach sometimes allows a pair of hawks to snatch a squirrel circling a tree trunk attempting to elude one of them. Not having a hawk’s patience, I didn’t stick around to see if it worked, or how the meal would be divvied up if it did.

In this neck of the woods, while the trees and fields are still bare, it’s a good time for hawk watching. Many of us are seeing red-tailed or rough-legged hawks on utility poles, in the tops of trees, even perched on road signs. The rough-legged hawks will be heading north before long. Many red-tails are area residents and will start nesting soon. Marsh hawks — smaller whiteish or gray birds — are gliding low over hay fields and grasslands, waiting for a field mouse or a rabbit to break cover.

The hawks that ride the thermals on sunny days or perch on high vantage points are patient hunters who watch and wait and swoop silently when the time is right. Rodents, snakes, small game and ground-nesting birds are all on the menu.

Deer and upland hunters told me this past season that they have seen hawks snatch birds out of the sky. I haven’t seen that, but I don’t doubt it. It is often true that a covey of quail or a group of pheasants can be located by looking for places where the hawks are circling.

Hawks hunt for a living and there is no doubt that they take a toll on the already diminished populations of upland game. Therein, as they say, lies the rub — at least for me.

Even if their presence is “goring my ox,” I like watching them. I admire their resolve. I am fascinated by their ability to soar with so little apparent effort. And I am amused by the funny way they walk when they are on the ground. They make a drunken sailor seem graceful.

If I could pick the predator I’d most like to share the wild country with, I’d much rather have hawks than coyotes, opossums, raccoons or feral cats. Hawks don’t tip over garbage cans, raid nests or prey on fawns. But I don’t get to choose and neither do you.

There is one important thing to keep in mind when the hawks are circling your upland habitat restoration. All birds of prey are federally protected — hawks included. Even if you don’t appreciate their graceful flight, legally, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Contact George Little at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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