NATURE NARRATIVES: Red-tailed hawk ‘majestic’

By Melissa Walker
       Late this afternoon I took a short walk through our neighborhood park. Except for the sound of the brisk wind, it was very quiet. As I headed south into the stiff breeze, I zipped up my jacket and cinched the hood tighter. I noted very little bird activity. Perhaps the birds had sought shelter from the wind, just as I had for most of the day.

A red-tailed hawk.
Winston Walker photo

       When I turned northward, with the wind at my back, I lowered my hood just in time to catch sight of a majestic bird that seemed to revel in the wind. A red-tailed hawk was soaring about 200 yards above me. With its wingtips outstretched, it faced directly into the rushing wind, buoyed by the moving air with no need to flap its wings. The motionless hawk seemed suspended from the blue sky by an invisible thread. Then, with a slight turn, it became an untethered kite and flew out of sight.
       A few facts about red-tailed hawks:
       They have broad wings, 4-foot wingspans and rounded tails that enable them to catch rising currents of warm air. They ride these air currents, called thermals, to soar high in the sky on the lookout for prey.
       From its "perch" in the sky, the hawk uses its phenomenal eyesight - eight times better than human sight - to spot a mouse scurrying on the ground a half-mile away. The red- tail then swoops down and grasps the mouse in its powerful talons. Other favorite foods of this bird-of-prey are squirrels, rabbits, large grasshoppers and even an occasional snake.
       A mature red-tailed hawk is fairly easy to identify with its reddish tail feathers and is one of the most common hawks in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region. Pairs of red-tails use the same territory and nesting area year after year and usually mate for life.
       One of my favorite places to observe red-tailed hawks is along 30th Street on the eastern boundary of Garden of the Gods. Actually, this impressive bird can be seen almost daily, year-round, in our Westside open spaces and in Colorado's mountains, mesas and prairies. The hawks are either soaring on the thermals and winds, or perching in tall trees and on fence posts to survey the landscape for any movement by their unsuspecting prey.

Walker, a long-time area naturalist, posts regular entries in her online blog at naturenarratives.com. She has given her permission to reprint selected pieces in the Westside Pioneer.