About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hawk courtship: Red-tailed hawks put on a showy display

One of the more raucous early spring bird calls comes from a common raptor in Michigan that is a little easier to see while deciduous trees are still bare. On sunny days in late March, male and female red-tailed hawks engage in a courtship of circling, swooping and diving, while repeating the cry, kee-eeeee-arr.

Red-tailed Hawks usually begin breeding when they are three years old. They are monogamous, and mate with the same individual for many years. In fact, red-tailed hawks usually only change mates when their original mate dies.

During spring courtship, the male and female soar together in circles at a great height. The male dives steeply, and then shoots up again at an angle nearly as steep. After several of these swoops he approaches the female from above, extends his legs, and touches her briefly. Sometimes, the pair grabs onto one other, clasp talons, and plummet in spirals toward the ground before pulling away.

The hawks quiet down after the female lays her eggs in a nest built high up in the crook of a tree. Both members build the nest, or simply refurbish one of the nests they’ve used in previous years. Nests are tall piles of dry sticks up to 6.5 feet high and 3 feet across.

Once leaves emerge, the hawks are much harder to see, as they spend their time silently perched in the tree canopy, watching for small rodents, such as squirrels, chipmunks, mice and voles. They may also feed on amphibians, reptiles and an occasional starling or mourning dove snatched from a bird feeder.

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