Thursday, January 20, 2011

One Carrion Per Passenger

One thing I've learned in my past few years of observations on Moose Hill is that when I see an animal doing something unexpected, there's usually a reason for it.

Nancy and I were enjoying a mid-morning jog up Moose Hill Parkway today when we saw a big red-tail hawk fly up from the roadside. It flew a ways up into the oaks and pines and perched, no doubt watching us. I think of red-tails soaring above fields or sitting in trees along the highway, not sitting on the ground along a narrow road passing through heavy forest.

As we passed the spot the hawk took off from I looked over the high snow bank looking for evidence of a kill. I soon discovered a mangled deer carcass with a large spot of exposed flesh. I assume the deer was killed by a car, but it's possible that it fell prey to coyotes.

I never thought of red-tails as carrion feeders. Maybe the difficult winter we're having has pushed the bird out of it's normal patterns. Yet again, Moose Hill is a source of new insights into our natural world.


robin andrea said...

Totally cool thing to see!

I just googled red-tailed hawk and carrion. Here's the interesting quote I found: Biologists had been surprised to find hair from deer, elk, sheep, cattle, and other large mammals in red-tailed hawk pellets. The explanation is that red-tails feed on fresh carrion when it is available. Traffic deaths are a particularly source of nutrition especially in winter.

This is from Red-Tailed Hawk by Charles Preston.

MojoMan said...

Thanks for that great information, Robin Andrea! I guess I'm not too off base in thinking that red-tails eating carrion is not an everyday thing. We've had a lot of snow with thawing, rain and bitter cold. Hunting conditions, especially with deep, crusty snow must be hard.

Paul said...

I was surprised last summer to see a rattlesnake attempting unsuccessfully to swallow half of an antelope squirrel that had been killed two or three days earlier. I didn't know rattlesnakes or red-taliled hawks eat carrion. It's good to keep learning!