Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Same Red Tailed Hawk--Different Squirrel/Day

Yesterday the immature Red Tailed hawk returned to Springbrook's feeders to work on the squirrel gene pool once again.

It had no difficulty, but was more wary of this photographer and flew to a fence post after the kill.

The sun was out, so better photo opportunities.

When on the ground mantling works perfectly as in previous entry photo, but when on a post, it only works for those above.  From this angle, the squirrel/food is pretty obvious.
This time the hawk started at the head and carefully ate every shred of bone, muscle, and any other tissue except skin and fur.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Red Tailed Hawk Eats Squirrel

 On December 23 the juvinile Red Tail Hawk that has been frequenting Springbrook's bird feeders (squirrel feeders?) for several weeks returned and sat in a tree right outside the main windows. Notice that the "crop" area, the high chest area where birds store food right after eating, is a concave hollow.  This hawk was hungry! 
Within a few minutes the less cautious of the overpopulated squirrels ventured forth to get some sunflower seeds before the other squirrels returned.  One moved too far from shelter and the hawk watched intently.

Within two seconds the hawk was down and the squirrel was removed from its gene pool.  Natural selection in action! and in front of awed nature center visitors.

The hawk immediately was mantling over the squirrel/prey. Mantling is the behavoir birds of prey display immediately after catching prey--spreading their wings and tail to hide it from other competing predators.

It works pretty good--can you see the squirrel? 
While it mantled, the hawk wasted no time starting to eat.  You can just see the eye watching as the beak easily found meat. 
 The hawk did not eat the fur or skin.  It opened the carcass and delicately, but with strength and speed, removed meat and bones and swallowed them whole.  This is an entire hind leg, minus skin.

You can see that the tail is not red in this juvinile Red Tail. That will take another year, as Amber Burnette mentions in her pictures of this bird on her blog site Avian Images.  She thinks it is probably a male because of its small size.  
The hawk moved around a lot as if on a pivot while getting at the meat, bones, and viscera, but stayed in the same spot.  It carefully ate every bit of the intestines.

Notice how ragged its feathers look.  Maybe that is why it has been looking for food at our feeders.
The hawk was very agile and quick, holding the body down with its talons while it pulled away all the edible parts.

I thought this was an interesting expression--if birds can do that.  Sort of a cocky "I am a top predator so don't mess with me" look.  All with a little bit of fresh flesh hanging off the top of its beak
Within ten minutes all that was left was the white inside of the skin, picked completely clean of any muscle tissue, and the back bone, laying off to the left.
These last two pictures were taken at the beginning and the end of the meal.  Notice the difference in the crop area of the hawk's chest.  See how it bulges out from all the food the hawk has just eaten!  This hawk did not go to sleep hungry on this night.  And it will have the energy to come back hunting again.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Death in the Blizzard

 In the midst of the near white-out blizzard of 17+ inches of snow today this Dark-eyed Junco was trying to eat to stay alive at my feeders at 1:30 PM.

 Not the best conditions for photography, but try it anyway.

Suddenly the Junco disappeared from my camera viewfinder in a blur.  I looked up to see where it had flown to and it was gone.  All the other birds, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Chickadees, Goldfinches, were all acting normal.

But then I saw the Sharp Shinned Hawk, about 30 feet away, under the lilac bush, with the Junco.  It happenned so fast and quietly none of the other birds noticed.  The Blue Jay was sitting calmly 5 feet over the small hawk as it quickly and meticulously ate every nutritious morsel of the Junco.

That is the two wing bones connected to the back of the Junco.  Every shred of muscle was picked off.  These bones and some feathers were all that was left after 5 minutes.  Then the little hawk flew over to the base of the Lilac bush, shook the snow off of itself, then up to a branch, and then it was gone.

Death is fast and unexpected for Juncos, but keeps hawks alive. And keeps me constantly at the camera.

This was very cool to watch and photograph, even if visibility was so poor because of the blowing snow and bushes. Not the best pictures, but an experience I feel privileged to have been able to observe.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Snapping Turtle Eggs

On June 19, 2010, I found an open hole in the ground where a Snapping Turtle had laid eggs the night before at Springbrook Nature Center. Rain had washed away the soil covering the hole,  and predators would have found the eggs as easily as I had. A living exhibit waiting to happen.

The 38 eggs were about 8 inches below the top of the sandy soil on a nature center maintenance road. I dug a hole next to the eggs to expose them.  

Once the embryo has attached itself inside the egg, if the egg is turned over the embryo will die.  So I marked the top of each egg with a pencil dot to assure it would be left in the proper position, and placed the eggs in a plastic container in vermiculite. I placed water in the bottom of the container, and left a lid partially covering it on a table where no sun could be directly on the eggs.

 On September 5, 80 days after the eggs were deposited in the road bed, they started to hatch. Within three days all the eggs hatched, and the babies were released into the pond near where they were found.
 If you look closely you can see the sharply pointed white egg tooth just below the nose of the baby turtle.  It uses this to cut the egg open from the inside.  After a couple of days the egg tooth dissappears.
The eggs are slightly smaller than a ping pong ball.  The baby's body is about an inch across, not counting the head and tail.
The baby turtles have a yolk sac on their underside that gives them nourishment for a few days after they hatch. It is absorbed within a week.

Red Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk.

This young Red Tailed Hawk has been hanging around Springbrook's Interpretive center for several weeks. On both Friday and Saturday it killed and ate a Gray Squirrel at our bird feeders.  On Sunday he/she was there while our bird banding activity was happenning. It is young and unafaid of people, being more interested in the animals attracted to the wildlife feeders. I have never seen a Red Tail allow people this close. 

Notice how it stands on one foot, keeping the other pulled up into its feathers for warmth.