Red-Tailed Hawk at Breakfast

by Dan Weisz

Red-Tailed hawks are present throughout the Foothills and are the most common hawk in North America. They are generalists, living in a wide variety of habitats and eating a wide range of prey. They are large, bulky birds and spend 95% of their waking hours perched, but they are excellent hunters. You can spot them on power poles or telephone poles as you drive around the Foothills.

I regularly look for a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks that I know live near Rio Vista Park and often hunt across the Rillito River north of River Road. Sometimes, I see them. Every once in a while I see them doing something interesting. On a recent morning, I found this hawk enjoying a round-tailed ground squirrel for breakfast. I first spotted the hawk on a far telephone pole and his behavior was different than normal “perching” behavior. Upon closer inspection, I saw he had prey. The image is not as sharp as I would like, but you can see the clearly identifiable “V” of the white feathers on his back along with his “red” tail.

I drove a bit further to find a closer place to observe him. The following photos all look very similar as I watched the hawk dine. Due to his eating profile, I didn’t always get catchlight in his eyes so at times he has a lifeless look, but his actions let you know he is very much alive and active.
Here he is using his foot to hold his meal still while he rips out a bite-sized snack.

Tendon or ligament?

There is its nictitating membrane

If he had lips, he’d be smacking his lips about now.