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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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Bird of Prey…or Not?

Gary Zulauf
Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks (RTHs) are among the largest hawks in North America.  They are mostly seen soaring and have an average wing span of over four feet.  A determined hunter, they seek out rodents, squirrels, snakes, other small mammals and rarely, other birds.

However, being a bird of prey, all other birds are on high alert when a RTH is flying in the area.  Some of the larger birds such as crows and mockingbirds, will attack a soaring RTH in an, attempt to shoo it out of the area.  They have also been known to pull out tail feathers of a retreating hawk.  Even when perched on a tree or pole the RTH is subject to harassment from surrounding birds in the neighborhood.

While birding near Brunswick Forest in Leland, I was in a familiar area known to have an occasional RTH.  Sure enough, I spotted one hovering above the tall pine trees with a small bird in chase, which I later identified as a tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (BGG).

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is a little larger than a hummingbird…too small and fast for a large hawk to catch.  It forages for bugs and insects mostly in leafy deciduous trees and bushes, places a RTH would not normally go.  In any case, this little guy was in hot pursuit and was more of a nuisance than a threat.  Finally, the RTH landed on top of a very tall pine tree in hopes that the BGG would retreat.

Instead, it began to swoop and dive above and behind the RTH’s head, apparently to avoid a possible snap from the beak.

Throughout this attack, the RTH appeared to be more focused on the ground and its next meal than the harmless dive-bomber.  After a couple of minutes of aerial attacks, the BGG probably needed a rest so it landed in the only place it had available, on top of the hawks head!

The RTH was oblivious to this until (after a couple of seconds) the BGG pushed off, probably ruffling a few feathers.   Probably thinking its luck was about to run out, the BGG flew away.  Subsequently, the RTH did the same.

Editor’s Note:  Gary Zulauf is a new writer for Cape Fear Voices, we welcome him to the team. 

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About the Contributor
Gary Zulauf, Contributing Writer
Gary Zulauf is a contributing writer for Cape Fear Voices.

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