Tag Archives: Eastern Screech-Owl

Raptors in Harm’s Way

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii

Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii

Late in the day on Monday we were driving on the Georgia Tech campus and a Cooper’s Hawk flew low right in front of the car, barely missing us.  A split second prior to seeing the bird, a squirrel raced across the street in a straight-line hurry.   He was not doing the indecisive squirrel thing that they do in the middle of the road, but running full out.  Clearly the squirrel was in the hawk’s sights.

How often does this happen?  A little homework revealed that it happens much more often than  you might think.  Here’s what we’ve learned.

Urban raptors that we see here are mainly hawks (Cooper’s, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered) and owls (Screech-, Barred and Great Horned).  Hawks are daytime hunters while owls hunt at night, but both may be seen in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn.

Great Horned Owl - Bubo virginianus

Great Horned Owl – Bubo virginianus

Cooper’s Hawks and owls look for prey from a perch and then move quickly to pounce on a prey animal (‘perch-and-pounce’).  During a chase, these birds are laser focused on their prey, and because their eyes are fixed to the front they often miss objects coming from the side.

Cooper’s Hawks will fly fast and low to the ground, then up and over an obstruction to surprise prey on the other side. [1]

The side of a highway or a city street is an ideal spot for urban perch-and-pounce raptors.  This time of year, the leaves are off the trees and rodents and squirrels have less tall grass and ground cover in which to hide.

Wildlife rescue organizations say that winter brings an uptick in raptor collisions with vehicles.  Speculation is that the increase is attributed to two groups: young first-year birds who don’t yet know the ropes and migrants.  Both groups would be unfamiliar with the territory and the roads. [2]

Although raptors are fast and agile, they are no match for fast-moving vehicles.

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii

Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii

So, when driving in town, especially in urban neighborhoods with lots of trees and good hunting spots, slow down.  If you see a squirrel, chipmunk or small rodent racing across the street, hit the brakes.  Not just to save the squirrel, but because a raptor may be close behind.  Drive like your children and wildlife live here.

If you hit a raptor and it is still alive, try to get it to an animal rescue facility quickly.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Cornell – All About Birds:  Cooper’s Hawk
[2]  Audubon Society of Portland:  Winter Raptors
[3]  HawkWatch:  Risks to Raptors
[4]  City Wildlife:  Raptors in Our City

First Day of Spring

Moon Rise in Buckhead

Moon Rise in Buckhead

Today, March 20, 2015 is the first day of spring, which is the vernal equinox.  An equinox occurs twice a year, around March 20th and September 22nd.  On the day of the equinox, the center of the Sun spends roughly an equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on the Earth, so night and day are about the same length.

Night Sky and the Milky Way - Arches NP

Night Sky and the Milky Way – Arches NP

Why are we talking about the equinox?  Because it made us think about night and how important the darkness is to wildlife. And to us.

The International Dark Sky Organization is a non-profit which is “…fighting to preserve the night”.  They have a brochure that talks about light pollution and it’s impact on wildlife.  In the brochure, the ‘Solutions’ section tells about how important darkness is and things you can do to help keep it dark.

Last fall we were in Arches National Park at night where you can see the stars and the Milky Way and really experience the night. Compare the two pictures above of the night sky:  the first taken earlier this week right outside our front door and the second in Arches National Park.

Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech-Owl

We have our own night critters right here. At least three kinds of owls that we’ve heard or seen, bats, opossums and frogs just to name a few.  The Eastern Screech-Owl nested for several years in our yard.   And just recently we recorded the Barred Owl, a frequent nocturnal visitor, one night outside our back door.