When the library reopened after the Covid shutdown, a small table was added to an alcove adjoining the staff lunchroom, presumably to encourage social distancing. The six-foot separations ended some time ago, but the miniature table remains . . . and it is my favorite spot for meals. Some people might attribute this to an anti-social streak in my character, but the view from this alcove restores me and gives me peace. I know it well: the wasps who shelter in the stone crevices, the unmowed grasses at the foot of Oakes Ames Hall, the chimney swifts who chitter as they swirl about the rooftops, and, above all, the red-tailed hawks.
Last year, our hawk family could readily be seen and heard from the library’s parking lot. It was hard to ignore the noisy fledglings, the upset songbird neighbors, and the conspicuous adults perched nearby. Then the “kids” grew up and things got quiet – until Wednesday. For the first time in months, my view included a wind-tusseled raptor.
Some red-tails winter in Massachusetts while others live here year-round. This bird’s familiar position gave the impression that it was here to stay. I headed downstairs wondering when I would see a mate. By the time I reached the ground floor, our library’s Director, Ian Dunbar, greeted me with the news that he had just seen two hawks on The Hall’s roof. Armed with my camera, I rushed out before dusk to see . . . a solitary bird on the roof. Oh, well. The light was fading; it was time to call it a day. That’s when I noticed a “squirrel” behaving strangely in a nearby oak. Without my glasses, I was lucky to see the tree! Here it is:
It’s possible that these birds were heading north, but I suspect not. Red-tailed hawks are monogamous and return to the same territory, if not the same nest, each year. What’s more, according to Mass Audubon’s Breeding Bird Atlas, “Most pairs in Massachusetts are on their breeding territories by March.” It’s unfortunate that I didn’t see them sitting together, for that would have provided another clue: females of this species are larger than males.
Now’s the time to watch. Are these birds a pair? Will they stay in this territory? Will you and I be lucky enough to see their courtship? If so, we’re in for a spectacular show. Here’s how All About Birds describes this behavior:
“Courting Red-tailed Hawks put on a display in which they soar in wide circles at a great height. The male dives steeply, then shoots up again at an angle nearly as steep. After several of these swoops he approaches the female from above, extends his legs, and touches her briefly. Sometimes, the pair grab onto one other, clasp talons, and plummet in spirals toward the ground before pulling away.”
The first step, though, is learning to spot the birds around the library property. Let’s practice. Find both hawks in each of the next two photos; then, scroll down to see their locations.
You may be surprised to discover that such large birds conduct their lives amongst us, that they are not confined to wilderness areas. Indeed, red-tailed hawks have successfully adapted to human landscapes in suburbs and even urban areas. This Boston Globe article from 2020 recounts how red-tails use telephone poles a perches, highway margins as hunting grounds, and buildings as nesting sites. That’s good news for me. Who knows what I’ll see next time I eat lunch!
To learn more about last season’s hawk activity, read my June 3 post, “Neighborhood Conflict.”
great subject and photographs
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