Friday, June 19, 2020

Birds of prey in our yard

Here's looking at you, kid!

Barred Owls

We're delighted that Barrel Owls (Strix varia) have occupied our non-poisoned yard for a number of years. We mostly hear them at twilight or dawn, but during mating season they are more active in the day.

They are opportunistic predators catching anything from small mammals to insects: including snakes, lizards, bats, birds, and even fish.

Their range is forested habitats across eastern North America and is now expanding into the Pacific northwest.

As with most birds of prey, the female is larger than the male. Females weigh between 1.75 - 2.5 lbs. Males weigh between 1.3 and 1.8 lbs. Their wingspan is about 38-42 inches. They mate for life, but will pair up again after a mate dies.

Males do all the hunting while the female is tending eggs and into  the first 2 weeks after the young hatch. As the young get larger and more demanding, the female will join in the hunting. Young are dependent upon their parents for more than two months. Then they leave home and wander only a few miles away in search of good habitat not already occupied by other Barred Owls.

Probably a male with a squirrel to eat, but would not do so while we were watching, so we backed away.  One of a Barred Owl pair--probably the female, which is larger.

Red-Shouldered Hawks

Our most plentiful bird of prey in our yard and in our neighborhood is the Red-shouldered Hawks  (Buteo lineatus). They often share habitat with the Barred Owls where these predators alternate night and day for their most active hunting periods. Hawks in the day and owls in the night. Their prey is similar to the owls ranging from rodents to snakes to large insects.

Not quite as large as the Barred Owls, the males are 15 to 23 inches long and weigh on average 1.21 lb. while the females are slightly larger at 19 to 24 inches in length and weigh about 1.5 lb. The wingspan can range from 35 to 50 inches.

It's fun to watch these hawks in action. They search for prey while perched or while in flight and when they sight prey, they kill it by swooping directly onto it from the air. Like the Barred Owl and most other birds of prey, they are monogamous and territorial. While courting or defending territories, they call out with a distinctive, screaming "kee-aah" usually repeated three to four times.

Red-shouldered hawk caught mid excretion. Red-shouldered Hawk with a small prey. The leg feathers show well in this photo.

Red-shouldered Hawk keeping watch from the back corner of the garage. A frequent perch. Two hawks and the one on the left looks immature.

Swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus)

Swallow-tailed Kites

Florida is part of the breeding range of the magnificent Swallow-tailed Kites (Elanoides forficatus). They are wonderful fliers and can stay aloft without flapping their wings and can change directions with just a slight twist of their tail.

They migrate from South America and nest in tall pines or bald cypresses that are near an expanse of wetlands or lakes. Our property backs up to a 110-acre lake and there are other lakes in the neighborhood and there are plenty of tall pines. The swallow-tailed kite feeds on snakes, lizards, frogs, large insects, small birds and eggs, and even bats. We have the perfect habitat.

Swallow-tailed kite  Swallow-tailed kite perched on a bare branch.

Will your yard be able to support the next generation of birds of prey?

The first action is to stop ALL landscape-wide poisons. Yes, even the lawn treatments including insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers. this will be the beginning step to converting to a "Freedom Lawn" where almost anything that grows and tolerates mowing is part of the mowed spaces. Then create some less tended areas in the back or side edges of the lawns where you could leave snags and stumps, build stick piles, plant groves of trees and shrubs, and/or create a meadow/wildflower area that's mowed only once a year. These wilder areas and the non-poisoned lawn and meadow areas will become habitat for smaller animals that might become prey for the larger birds
American white ibis (Eudocimus albus). While these are not considered to be birds of prey, we are always happy to see them patrol our freedom lawn for bugs and grubs.  
Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) Southern black racer(Coluber constrictor priapus)
So our yard and our neighborhood is host for smaller birds, insects, snakes and other creatures that all play a part in a working ecosystem. Read  a previous piece I wrote on ecosystem gardening , "Cheer for the Predators in Ecosystem Gardenings."

I hope you've invited birds and other wildlife to your yard. It's all part of the adventures of ecosystem landscaping.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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