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.

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