Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Will That Warms My Heart

This month I would like to introduce you to Willard, the Red-tailed Hawk, and some of the fascinating facts about him and his species.
 Willard's plumage is the Eastern color variation-note the distinctive red tail that gives this species its name.
If you haven’t already met him at WBS’s Monsanto Environmental Education Center (also known as the visitor’s center), I strongly suggest you make a trip out to see Willard.  Willard is a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). 

Willard was orphaned when he was just a fluff ball of a baby, and since we did not have any Red-tailed Hawk breeding pairs at the time, we placed him with a pair of Harris’ Hawks so they could raise him.  We wanted to make sure Willard did not become imprinted on humans.  These hawks did a great job of raising him like he was one of their own. 

Willard was hatched in the wild in 1994, which makes him nineteen years old this year.  We know that because he has been with WBS since he was just a chick.  In the wild, Red-tailed Hawks live up to 21 years and up to 29 years in captivity.  The oldest reported Red-tailed Hawk in captivity was 28 years and 10 months old.

Willard hard at work greeting visitors in WBS's weathering area.
Red-tailed Hawks are native only to North America and are present year round in the continental United States and Mexico.  Their summer  breeding range is in some northern states, Canada and even in southern Alsaka.  Red-tails are the most commonly seen hawk in North America.  You won’t need to look very hard to spot these birds outside.  They are often seen soaring over open fields or perched atop electrical poles and trees along interstate highways and country roads. 

These large hawks range from 17 to 25 inches in length and weigh from 24 to 60 ounces (1.5 to 3.75 pounds).  Their wingspan ranges from 3.5 to 4.5 feet.  As with most birds of prey it’s the females that are larger than the males.  Males and females are not sexually dimorphic, meaning that their plumage (feather color) is the same for males and females. 

The Red-tailed Hawk has one of the most variable plumages of any raptor, depending on region.  Besides the eastern color variation like Willard, there are dark morphs and light morphs including, a Krider’s subspecies, Harlan’s subspecies, Rufous morph, and there are many reports of Albino and lucistic Red-tailed Hawks.  Krider’s hawks are more often found around the Great Plains in the United States and Harlan’s hawks are found in Canada and Alaska.  Below you can notice the difference in plumage.

Note the much lighter plumage on this Krider's sub-species

Red-tailed Hawks are a type of bird of prey, which puts them into the category of being a carnivore.  These hawks will eat mostly mammals, but will go after snakes, small birds, and carrion (dead animals).  A common name most people give these hawks is the “chicken hawk” because they are known to sometimes prey on chickens, but Red-tailed Hawks mostly go after small mammals.  If you have ever gone to a cinematic adventure (the movies!) and heard a bird of prey calling, it was most likely a Red-tailed Hawk call.  (To hear some of the  calls made by a Red-tailed Hawk click on the link and then scroll down on the page.)  Their call is the most common bird of prey call to be used even if the bird in the movie is not a Red-tailed Hawk!

Willard is available for adoption in our Adopt a Bird program.  To find out more information, call 636-861-3225.  All adoption donations are tax deductible. 

Unless he is traveling to an education program with our Naturalists, Willard can be seen year round in the weathering area behind the Monsanto Environmental Education Center at the World Bird Sanctuary.  The World Bird Sanctuary is open daily from 8am-5pm. 

Willard is a very handsome bird.  You should stop on by and visit him! 

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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