National Geographic : 1933 Jul
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo borealis) This fine bird, under the name of "chicken hawk," is universally known, as it is conspicuous and widely distributed, although ranging by preference in hilly or mountainous regions where there are for ests. It is strong and graceful on the wing and spends hours in soaring in wide circles, sometimes so high in the air as to be almost out of sight. Its flight is not particularly swift, and it often rests for long periods on limbs or the tops of dead trees, where it has a commanding view. The red-tail is preeminently a mouse hawk, meadow mice particularly being a staple article in its diet. It also eats other mice, squirrels, gophers, rabbits, kangaroo rats, wood rats, moles and shrews, has been known to attack skunks, and also kills snakes and lizards. In summer and fall, particularly in the Western States, it consumes many grasshoppers when these appear in pestilential abundance. Ground-inhabiting birds are eaten at times, but, on the whole, the red-tail is distinctly beneficial, meriting protection except where some individual acquires the habit of eating chickens. In spite of the good that it does, it is shot on every occa sion and has been so reduced in many sec tions of the eastern United States that it is now a rare bird. The nest of the red-tail is a large struc ture of sticks, sometimes with a slight lin ing of soft materials. The eggs vary from two to four, being creamy white, occa sionally unmarked, but ordinarily spotted with shades of brown. In the South these birds begin to nest in February, the nest ing period being governed in the North by the date of the opening of spring. The voice is a high-pitched scream, a stirring sound usually being given as the birds circle high in the air. The imma ture bird in the first fall has the tail brown, barred with blackish. This is one of the species that formerly appeared in southward migration in abun dance, but the soaring flocks of early days are now things of the past and each year the birds seem to become fewer. In its wide range from Alaska through central Canada to Nova Scotia and south through the United States, the red-tail is divided into five geographic races, and other forms are found in the West Indies and Central America. RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus) This common cousin of the red-tail ranges in wooded country, and can main tain itself where groves and trees border cultivated fields. Though it delights in soaring, it seems somewhat less active than the red-tail. It may be distinguished on the wing by the narrow barring of the under-wing surface. The food is highly varied, including mice, rats, snakes, frogs, fish, large in sects, centipedes, spiders, crayfish, earth worms, and snails. It seems to take even fewer birds than the red-tail, and only occasional individuals acquire the chicken killing habit or attack game birds. There are numerous instances on record where these birds have nested in woods adjacent to hen-yards without attempting in any way to molest the poultry. On the whole, this hawk should be pro tected, though many are wantonly killed by hunters, so that the species is decreasing in many localities. "RED-SHOULDERS" NEST HIGH OR LOW The nest of the "red-shoulder" is made of twigs, placed in trees often at a con siderable elevation, but occasionally as low as 18 or 20 feet. The number of eggs in a set varies from two to six, with three or four as the usual number. These are white, sometimes with a yellowish or bluish tinge, marked with shades of brown and gray. Eggs without markings are rare. The calls of the red-shouldered hawk are loud, wailing screams that may be heard for some distance. They are mim icked by the bluejay so perfectly that it is often difficult to distinguish the imitation. The northern red-shouldered hawk, Bu teo lineatus lineatus, ranges from south ern Canada to southern Kansas and North Carolina, migrating to the Gulf coast in winter. The Florida red-shoulder, Buteo 1. alleni,which is smaller, nests from Okla homa and South Carolina to Louisiana and southeastern Florida. The insular red-shoulder, Buteo 1. ex timus, still smaller and paler in color, is found in the Florida Keys. The Texas red-shoulder, Buteo 1. tex anus, with richer color below, nests from southern Texas to Tamaulipas; and the red-bellied hawk, Buteo 1. elegans, with more rufous below, is found in California and northwestern Baja California.