Red-Tailed Hawks and Ice Cream Species

By Dave Hanks

Most animals eat a wide range of food. But like us, they like some foods better than others. “ICE CREAM SPECIES” is a biological term that identifies an item that an animal favors over all others. An animal that typifies this is a large hawk that spends time in the tall trees behind our cattle corrals. It is a Red-Tailed Hawk – the most common large hawk of Cassia County and the USA for that matter. Red-Tails prefer rabbits or squirrels. We have both living in our yard, and perhaps that is why this hawk often swoops through our trees.

Rabbits and squirrels are not always readily available, so voles, mice, snakes, frogs, and even carrion become part of the menu. Red-Tails live in both open and wooded areas and can often be seen perched on power poles or the tops of trees. Because several hawk species look somewhat alike, the reddish tail, most visible when the adult is in flight, is the most reliable field mark. Young birds have yet to acquire the redness. There are also two color phases: light and dark morphs. The dark phase is dark all over, but the light (and most common) has a belly band – which is also a good identification marking.

Lucky for the hawk – Great Horned Owls hunt at night. They prey on the same food sources that the hawk hunts in the daylight. Hawks have tremendous eye sight, which is used during their slow, steady flight. They will also soar with their wings slightly above horizontal or hover when the wind is moderate.

Red-Tailed Hawks have few predators, but weasels will attack the nest to either eat the eggs or the nestlings. The female lays three eggs and incubates them for about a month before they hatch in the late spring. Those that survive have a life span of about 20 years.

We like to cruise the open-country back roads in September. There are usually lots of raptors sitting on fence posts, sprinkler lines, or rock ledges.

(Taking a bath in North Heglar Canyon)