May 22, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 10 February 2011 12:01
The six feet or so of snow we’ve had this winter can be a game-changer for some of our raptors — depending on what the snow surface is like. Snow can offer opportunity — or trouble.
After the January “blizzard” that dropped nearly two feet of snow on much of our area, ground-feeding hawks like the Red-tailed and Red-shouldered with a taste for fresh meat could have had a bit of trouble. The snow was fairly fluffy and very deep, which meant a favorite winter prey, the Gray Squirrel, was not likely to be seen on the ground.
When snow is deep and lacking a hard surface, squirrels find it difficult to move across the ground, and pretty much stick to the trees, where they have their winter nests and the food they’ve stored in various cavities, and where they are hard for a hawk to grab. Squirrels are smart enough to know that trying to plod slowly through deep snow, they are easy targets.With that kind of snow, hawks may be forced to feed on carrion, such as dead deer, and even on suet at feeding stations. We have had a couple of reports of big hawks hanging around suet feeders in the past few weeks.
But the game changed last week when we got a dose of sleet and freezing rain. All of a sudden, that soft-topped snow pack gained a hard surface. Down came the squirrels.
On Sunday, we watched scads of them scampering across the neighborhood yards. They seemed almost to be frolicking on the hard snow surface — made all the more pleasant by the fact that the air above was in the 40s and the sun was out. I believe this is also one of the times of year when female Gray Squirrels are “in heat” and the guys are out chasing them.
Added to this is the fact that we had a good acorn mast last season. The squirrel population, which ebbs and flows with the food supply, is high right now.
All that’s great for Red-tails and Red-shoulders. The squirrels are on the ground, easily spotted against the white surface; there are lots of them; and they may be acting foolishly.
I suspect there were a lot of full hawk stomachs last weekend.
Dr. Joseph DeLapa of Vista, N.Y. has been giving the hungry hawks a helping hand.
He has “a pair of what I think are Red-shouldered Hawks that have been frequenting my bird feeders. I have not actually seen them grab any small birds, but they will occasionally snatch a larger bird such as a dove or Blue Jay. I have even seen them noshing on a rabbit or squirrel in the summertime.
“With the weather being so bad this year, we’ve been putting out quite a bit of food for the birds on a regular basis. As you can see from the photos even the hawks get fed in these hard times.”
Great Backyard Bird Count, 13th annual, Feb. 18 to 21, for info, birdsource.org/gbbc.
Great Backyard Bird Count, talk and walk, Saturday, Feb. 19, 1 to 2:30 p.m., all ages, Audubon Greenwich, RSVP 203-869-5272 x230, greenwich.audubon.org.
“First Sundays,” bird walks open to all ages and skills, at Greenwich Point, with Meredith Sampson, first Sunday of the month, through May, 9 a.m. sponsored by Wild Wings, Inc., Bruce Museum and Audubon Greenwich, 203-637-9822.
Copyright 2011 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] yahoo.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877; or call 203-438-1183, extension BIRD (2473), and leave a message with your report, spelling your first and last names and telling us your town. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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