This story is brought to you by BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.
Almost anywhere in North America, you can hear the piercing scream of a Red-tailed Hawk. They’re right at home in a wide variety of natural landscapes, from meadows to forest edges, deserts and canyons. They're present all year round: bulky silhouettes perched along the roadside or soaring above on broad, rounded wings with a four-foot span.
One big reason we see Red-tailed Hawks in so many places is their remarkable adaptability as hunters. They vary their diet to what is locally abundant.
Over long fields or along the edge of highways, Red-tailed Hawks eat mostly small mammals such as rabbits, voles, and mice, with the occasional bird thrown in. In more arid regions, where voles may be few but reptiles abound, these opportunistic hawks pounce on snakes. In parts of the southwestern United States, where vast numbers of bats emerge from roost caves after sunset, Red-tails will snatch them in mid-air. They find an even more unlikely entrée on Soccoro Island, Mexico, where land crabs are their primary prey.
Versatility serves the Red-tail well. As much as any species of raptor, it may be able to adapt to shifts in food sources as human activity changes the landscape around it.
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Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Red-tailed Hawk and ambient sound recorded by J W McGowan
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Written by Bob Sundstrom
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2013 Tune In to Nature.org May 2013 Narrator: Michael Stein