On a gray day, consider hunting for hawks. We’ve seen more hawks in Ann Arbor on overcast winter days than at any other time.
There may be several reasons for this. When there is no glare from the sun, spotting the hawks is easier. Trees and shrubs are pretty bare, so they don’t interfere with the view. And our most commonly seen hawk, the red-tailed hawk, is a migrant who moves south from more northerly climes. There may just be more of them here in winter.
The Observer, in a February 2011, article, took note of the large number of hawks in town. We have seen hawks on Liberty, on Wagner, and on Zeeb, and a pair along the Huron River. Hawks have been spotted, at one time or another, all around town.
The red-tailed hawk is the species most often seen locally, because unlike some of its cousins, it’s comfortable in unforested areas. We have seen red-tails most often along roads bordering open fields, hunting from a perch such as a tree, a utility pole, a wire, or any other structure that provides an unobstructed view. Generally the birds soar high–they can see a mouse in the field from ten stories up–but we see them hunting from far lesser heights.
Red-tails eat small animals such as squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. They also hunt and eat other birds, although that’s generally not a large part of their diet. The activity around our backyard bird feeders (which also attract chipmunks and squirrels) gets very quiet when a hawk shows up. And, while red-tails seem to prefer live food, the guidebooks say they will eat carrion. Because red-tails have a reputation as opportunistic eaters, it might be well to keep the Chihuahua close or leave it at home when hunting this hunter!
While these birds are common, we don’t see them every day. But if your commute takes you by a hawk’s hunting grounds, you may see it on multiple occasions. The bird is large, around three pounds plus or minus, and compact looking. The short tail, if you are close enough to see it or are using binoculars, is indeed red, but more of a brick red rather than a bright red color.
Once you first recognize a red-tailed hawk, perhaps in silhouette on a perch or flying across a road, it’s a snap to identify again. Consider making it a challenge for the family: see who can spot the first hawk on a gray winter day.