Hovers Like a Kestrel, Flies Like a Kestrel, Is NOT a Kestrel
While driving down a highway today a large hawk hovering over a ditch caught my attention. The bird remained in one place, except for flapping its wings, as its eyes focused on any possible prey habitat that may have been in hiding in the brush just 20-30 below it. Aerial hunting for the hawk was so focused that the hawk did not realize I had stopped to watch its intense work. Or, maybe the hawk was hungry enough that it chose to continue hunting as long as I did not pose a threat. Regardless of why the hawk remained in place, it was fascinating to watch its winged-performance.
American kestrels frequently demonstrate behavior similar to what I was seeing along the road. It was obvious I was not watching a kestrel (a member of the falcon family), but I was not entirely certain which species of hawk I was seeing. By comparing my photos with reference material I learned that I had photographed a young rough-legged hawk in a light morph phase. Perhaps its immature status explains why the bird tolerated my presence, including my driving away. A glance back in my mirror confirmed the hawk was continuing to hunt. My presence had no impact on its activities.
Allaboutbirds.org has the following information about rough-legged hawks:
The Rough-legged Hawk spends the summer capturing lemmings on the arctic tundra, tending a cliffside nest under a sun that never sets. Winter is the time to see this large, open-country hawk in southern Canada and the U.S., where it may be perched on a pole or hovering over a marsh or pasture on the hunt for small rodents. Found globally across northern latitudes, this species occurs in both light and dark forms.
- The name “Rough-legged” Hawk refers to the feathered legs. The Rough-legged Hawk, the Ferruginous Hawk, and the Golden Eagle are the only American raptors to have legs feathered all the way to the toes.
- Nonbreeding adults eat about a quarter-pound of food daily, or a tenth of their body mass – that’s about 5 small mammals. Nestlings start feeding themselves (swallowing lemmings whole) at about 16 days old. It’s estimated that a brood of 2 nestlings requires 26 pounds of food during the 40 days between hatching to fledging.”
Later this afternoon, as I was driving home from work, I narrowly missed colliding with a whitetail doe being aggressively chased by a buck as they crossed the road in front of me. The doe appeared terrified and the buck was definitely determined. Both were running about as fast I see whitetail deer move. I doubt there was anything the doe could do at this point. She was not going to escape him until some whitetail interaction occurred.
When I moved forward just a bit I noticed another doe to my left. She had a look of “Wow, I am glad it was her!” and paid little attention to me. Eventually she did turn to run back into the woods, but she clearly took her time.