During the past few weeks, a couple of homeowners have sent me pictures of hawks perched in their backyards.
In both cases, the birds proved to be red-shouldered hawks. This was not surprising as the red-shouldered hawk is one of the hawks most commonly seen in Georgia backyards.
Adult red-shouldered hawks are easily identified by their rufous shoulders, which can be seen when the bird is perched. Adults will also have a heavily barred, reddish brown breast. The tail displays distinctive white and black bands.
The red-shouldered hawks seen in backyards are often spotted perched atop poles, on the limbs of trees, or light fixtures. Frequently they will remain there for hours on end. If they find a particular perch to their liking, they will sometimes return to the same spot day after day.
Since red-shouldered hawks prefer to hunt from a perch, most likely, if you see one perched in your backyard, it is hunting for one of your unwary backyard neighbors.
When they spot a potential meal, the hawk launches itself into the air and silently glides toward its prey.
Since they prefer to eat small mammals, chances are it is looking for an eastern chipmunk, or rodent attracted to the seeds that have been spilled from your feeders. Since chipmunks are now out and about gathering sunflower and other seeds to store in their winter larder, they are particularly vulnerable to red-shouldered hawks at this time of the year.
In some cases, they will even attack something as large as a gray squirrel.
Other food items include fence lizards, skinks, green anoles, and even snakes.
A red-shouldered hawk has even been reported attacking a garden hose. I am sure this was a cast of mistaken identity; the hawk probably thought it was pouncing on a snake.
From time to time, red-shouldered hawks will prey upon a mourning dove, European starling or other birds. Rarely, however, do they try to captures small birds such as chickadees.
On rare occasions, red-shouldered hawks will even eat suet. Now that is something I want to see!
Keep your eyes peeled for a red-shouldered hawk in your backyard. If you happen to see one, pull up a seat and take the time to watch it for a while. If you are lucky, you may have a the opportunity to watch one of our most handsome avian predators trying to catch a meal.