At only 9 inches long, the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) aka "sparrowhawk", is North America's smallest and most colorful falcon. The male and female look similar, but the male is more colorful, with blue on his wings and head. Like all raptors, the female is larger than the male.Found in meadows, fields, and open grassland, American Kestrels are often seen perched on a wire or fencepost, hunting for small insects and mammals such as grasshoppers, mice, voles, and occasionally small birds.Kestrels are cavity nesters, using an old woodpecker hole or bird house for their 4-6 eggs. Around May, the eggs hatch and both parents incubate their eggs and feed the young. These elegant raptors have a limited number of calls, and the most familiar is this high-pitched kee!
The Bald Eagle was dubbed America’s national bird in 1782, much to the chagrin of Benjamin Franklin who suggested the Wild Turkey as the symbol of freedom and justice. Adults are distinguished by their full white heads and tails, but young birds are overall brown with some white mottling. Bald Eagles can live up to 28 years in the wild and will mate for life. They prefer areas around large bodies of water that are not overly developed as they can be sensitive to human activities. Eagles mainly feed on fish, but are not opposed to small mammals, birds and reptiles. They are also thieves! Bald Eagles are known to harass other birds of prey until they drop their catch and take it for themselves. Their calls are surprisingly small for such a large bird.
If you hear "who cooks for you, who cooks for you" in the middle of the night in the forest, chances are you are hearing a Barred owl. Opportunistic hunters, Barred owls will prey on rodents, birds and even crayfish which occasionally gives them pinkish color in their feathers.
Cooper’s Hawks are hawks of the forest and are extremely agile predators. They are members of the genus Accipiter, sharing that genus with two other hawks -- Northern Goshawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk. Nests of Cooper’s Hawks will often be found in pine trees. Built of sticks mainly by the male, they are a bit over two feet across with a depression in the middle for up to six eggs and chicks, and often lined with bark. Now of low concern, this is a big change from 50+ years ago when their population, like that of many other raptors, was hit very hard by hunting and the use of DDT.
Homeowners with bird feeders may notice their feeders become a birdy buffet for the birds that like to eat feeder birds. Cooper’s Hawks have learned to hang out near bird feeders and pick off the birds that show up to dine. It is important to place bird feeders near cover, such as a bush or hedge, so that the birds at your feeder have a place to escape and hide from this quick and agile predator.
The Eastern Screech Owl has a variety of calls. The most well-known sounds like a ghostly horse winny. The Eastern Screech owl comes in two color morphs, with the red color morph being much less common than the grey.
Northern Harriers are like a cross between a hawk and an owl; they normally hunt during the day, but have the round facial disc of an owl. This not only gives them the appearance of an owl, but also enables them to hunt by sound! This has given them their unique hunting style. Northern Harriers are often seen gliding low over a grassy field. All of the sudden you’ll see one drop down when it hears a prey item, such as a mouse, rustling in the grass. Harriers are also seen “stooping”, or diving straight down at prey like a falcon or buteo, or chasing down prey like an accipiter. Harriers really can do it all! Keep an eye out for a low-flying hawk with a flat, round face. They also have a white rump patch and a deep “V” shape to their wings when gliding. Adult males are pale gray, earning them the additional nickname of “gray ghost”.
The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a small, secretive owl. Its favorite food is deer mice, and it usually gets two meals out of a single mouse. Its call is a clear, pure whistle, that sounds much like a human doing a repeated, tooting whistle. Since they are quite fond of evergreens, Christmas tree farms are a popular place to find Saw-whet owls.
Ospreys are found on all continents except Antarctica and are always found near bodies of water. They migrate from their breeding grounds to warmer climates where their main food, fish, is plentiful. These large predators hover over the water and then plunge in to get the fish which they hold in their talons as they fly back to their nests. Ever see a bird shaking in the air like a dog? This would be an Osprey! These very large birds are very happy to nest on platforms built for them, and raise their chicks, and these platforms have been very helpful in reestablishing birds after years of loss of eggs from DDT.
Peregrines are astonishing birds who can reach speeds of up to 69 mph flying in pursuit of prey and over 200 mph when in a "stoop" or dive. Unlike other hawks, Peregrines don't grab their prey with their talons, but hit them with enormous force, knocking them unconscious and easier to grab. The word "peregrine" means "wanderer" and this sleek, dark raptor has one of the longest migrations of any bird of prey. They are one of the most widespread bird species in the world, and their adaptability to life in cities has enabled them to come back from the brink of extinction. They can be found on almost every continent.
The most common hawk in the US, this large hawk is a familiar sight throughout North America and can be found in cities as well as in rural areas. Efficient hunters, they prefer to hunt from a perch and pounce on rodents and small mammals. They are best known for their red colored tails and there are numerous geographic variations in color. Many people are passionate about these hawks, and some of the more famous ones, like Pale Male who has taken up residence in a fashionable area of New York City, have become icons in the clash between humans and animals. They are monogamous and mate for life.
Cooper's Hawks are members of the genus Accipiter, sharing that genus with two other forest-loving hawks, the Northern Goshawk and the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Cooper's Hawks get their name from naturalist William Cooper, one of the founders of the New York Academy of Science.
Homeowners with bird feeders may notice that their feeders have become a birdy buffet, not just for the birds eating the birdseed, but for the birds that like to eat feeder birds! Cooper's Hawks have learned to hang out near bird feeders and pick off the little birds that like to eat bird seed. This is why it is important to place bird feeders near cover, such as a bush or hedge, so that the little birds have a place to escape and hide from this quick and agile predator.