Rich’s Backyard Birds: January 2016

By Rich Crete

Hey Bird Guy! I keep hearing a very loud very high pitched screeching call during the day. Could I be hearing eagles? -H.B. of River Hills

Well, H. (I trust I can call you H) there are Bald Eagles in the area. As a matter of fact there are over 60 active nests in Hillsborough County, which is simply wonderful. Most of the time you’ll see an eagle, not hear it.

Eagles, in old westerns on television always had the high pitched screech you are describing. However, that is not what eagles sound like. Eagles make a surprisingly weak, strangled chattering sound you’d typically associate with a much smaller bird. The T.V. executives needed something more impressive sounding for a bird as majestic as an eagle so they used the call of the Red-tailed Hawk instead. The cheaters.

While there are also Red-tailed hawks in the area, odds are much higher you are hearing Red-shouldered Hawks. They are by far the most abundant hawk here year round. These hawks do have the high pitched screech and are extremely vocal. You’ll often hear two or more calling back and forth. They call when perched or even in flight to claim territory and to communicate with one another, although because of their strong accents you usually can’t understand what they are saying.

Most birds are plentiful in places where their primary food source is also plentiful. Red-shoulders eat predominantly lizards and snakes, so that explains why there are so many around. No shortage of lizards here, last time I checked. No, your dog is not in danger. Neither is your cat because you keep your cat indoors, right H? Good.

Red-shouldered Hawks do indeed have a rust colored patch on their shoulders which you can see when they are perched, if you have the right angle. They have rust chests with horizontal thin white stripes and have a black and white striped tails.

Our second most common hawk is the Cooper’s Hawk but they are considerably less vocal. Here is an extra tidbit for you, H, because I feel like you and I are bonding. Our three most common hawks coexist well predominantly since they have different primary diets. As you now know the Red-shoulder’s primary food is reptiles. The Cooper’s main munchie is birds, namely Mourning Doves. The Red-tailed is mostly a small mammal eater, targeting mice, voles, squirrels etc.

Happy New Year!