Female Northern Harrier

Jean Yeatman and her son, Clay Yeatman, drove from Sewanee to Columbia, Tenn., on Thursday, via Highway 53 and Interstate 65, and they were impressed by the number of hawks and other raptors (all members of the order Falconiformes) they saw sitting in trees along the way.“There were 10 Red-tailed Hawks, two Northern Harriers, one American Kestrel and numerous Black Vultures,” she commented.

“The Red-tailed Hawk is the most widely dispersed and commonly seen buteo. When sitt ing in a tree, its pale chest catches your eye, and when it is flying, its heavy body and red tail are easy to identify as it soars in a circle overhead and drops upon its prey (which are mice and rabbits, and other rodents).

“The Northern Harrier is quite a large bird,” she continued. “It is usually seen hunting, flying slowly a few feet above a field or over a marsh. Its white rump is the easiest identifying feature on both the gray male and the larger brown female. They have an owl-like facial disk that helps them to hunt by sound, as well as by sight.

“The American Kestrel is a very small falcon with bright plumage— blue wings, rusty brown back and striped chest. It hunts from poles, wires or trees, frequently hovers, and eats primarily insects. “The Black Vulture is easy to identify by its black head, and in flight, by its white patches near the wing tips. This carrion-eater often invades settlements to feed on garbage, as well as small animals.

“I think,” she concluded, “that the bad weather up north has driven the hawks south this winter.”

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