Driving just 20 miles across the city the other day to celebrate Christmas with the grandkids, I spotted seven Red-tailed Hawks perched at intervals on the light poles along the freeway.
Most were juvenile birds judging from their brown striped (i.e., not red) tails. The snow wasn’t terribly deep along the roadsides, and the icy rain was quickly melting a lot of it away, so perhaps the visibility of little field mice and voles scurrying around in the fields below was pretty good. Either that, or these young, somewhat inexperienced hunters, trying to survive their first northern winter, were desperate.
A closer look at one juvenile that I photographed from an overpass. The pale eye and rather short, barred tail are reliable indicators of the bird’s youthful age. Next spring, assuming the bird finds adequate food over the winter, the eye color will change to dark brown, and new tail feathers will be rusty red instead.
This bird didn’t seem at all bothered by cars passing by, but as soon as I stopped, it got very nervous and quickly decided to leave this perch. Red-tailed Hawks typically have a dark “belly” band across their otherwise pale breast.
And off it goes to find a better hunting perch, free of pesky photographers.