Neltje Blanchan.

Birds that hunt and are hunted; life histories of one hundred and seventy birds of prey, game birds and water fowls online

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make a fairly well constructed nest of twigs, lined with smaller
ones, or strips of bark, with the help of its larger mate, from fif-
teen to forty feet from the ground. Strangely enough, the nest
is not a common find, however abundant the bird, neither
Nuttall nor Wilson having discovered one in all their tireless wan-
derings. Dense evergreens, the favorite nesting localities, con-
ceal the nest, large as it is much too large for so small a bird,
one would think. A pair of these hawks may sometimes repair
their last season's home, but will never appropriate an old tene-
ment belonging to others, as many hawks do. Late in May,
or even so late as June, from three to six bluish or greenish
white eggs, heavily blotched or washed with cinnamon red or
chocolate brown, keep both parents busy incubating and, later,
feeding a hungry family. Climb up to the nursery, and angry,
fearless birds dash and strike at an intruder as if he were no
larger than a goldfinch.

Cooper's Hawk

( ' Accipiter Cooperi)


Length Male 15. 50 inches; female 19 inches.

Male, Female and Young To be distinguished from the sharp-
shinned species only by their larger size, darker, blackish
crowns, and rounded, instead of square, tails.

Range Temperate North America, nesting throughout its United
States range; some birds wintering in Mexico and the
southern states.

Season Permanent resident except at northern limits of range,
where it is a summer or transient visitor.

Like the sharp-shinned hawk in habits as in plumage, this,
its larger double, lives by devouring birds of so much greater


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc.

value than itself that the law of the survival of the fittest should
be enforced by lead until these villains, from being the commonest
of their generally useful tribe, adorn museum cases only. Captain
Bendire, writing for the Government, says: "Cooper's hawk must
be considered as one of the few really injurious Raptores found
within our limits, and as it is fairly common at all seasons
throughout the greater part of the United States, it does in the
aggregate far more harm than all other hawks. It is well known
to be the most audacious robber the farmer has to contend with
in the protection of his poultry, and is the equal in every way,
both in spirit and dash, as well as in bloodthirstiness, of its larger
relative, the goshawk, lacking, however, the strength of the latter,
owing to its much smaller size. It is by far the worst enemy of
all the smaller game birds, living to a great extent on them as
well as on small birds generally. It does not appear to be
especially fond of the smaller rodents ; these, as well as reptiles,
batrachians, and insects, seem to enter only to a limited extent
into its daily bill of fare, and unfortunately it is only too often the
case that many of our harmless and really beneficial hawks have
to suffer for the depredations of these daring thieves."

American Goshawk

(Accipiter atricapillus)


Length Male 22 inches ; female 24 inches.

Male and Female Upper parts bluish slate, darkest or blackish on
head ; white line over and behind eye; tail like back and
banded with blackish bars, the last one the broadest, and
the tip whitish. Entire under parts evenly marked with
irregular wavy lines of gray and white, the barring usually
most heavy on the flanks and underneath. Immature birds
have dusky upper parts margined with chestnut, the tail
brownish gray barred with black, the under parts white or
buff streaked with black. Bill dark bluish. Feet yellow.

Range Northern North America; nests from northern United
States northward ; winters so far south as Virginia.

Season Permanent resident.

Another villain of deepest dye; what good can be said of it
beyond that it wears handsome feathers, is a devoted mate and

Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc.

parent, a fearless hunter, and of some small, if disproportionate,
value to the farmer in occasionally eating field mice and insects ?
Whitewashing is useless in the case of a bird known to
be the most destructive creature on wings. No more daring
marauder prowls above the poultry yards than the goshawk
that drops like a thunderbolt from a clear sky at the farmer's
very feet and carries off his chickens before his eyes. Grouse,
Bob Whites, ducks, and rabbits: in fact, all the sportsmen's pets
and innumerable songbirds, are hunted down with a dash and
spirit worthy of a better motive. Bloodthirsty, delighting in
killing what it often cannot eat, marvellously keen sighted, a
powerful, swift flyer, aggressive, and constantly on the alert, it
is small wonder all lesser birds become panic-stricken when this
murderer sails within striking distance. Without a quiver of its
wings it will sail and sail, apparently with the most innocent
intent. Again, with strong wing beats, it will rush through
the air and overtake a duck that flies at the rate of a hundred
miles an hour, seize it by the throat, sever its windpipe and
fly off with its burden. One very rarely sees the goshawk
perching and waiting for prey to come to it. When it does so,
it holds itself erect, elegant and spirited as ever. After tearing
the legs off a ruffed grouse, and plucking every feather, this
villain has been known to prepare another and another until
five were ready for an orgie, which consisted of only fragments
of each, torn with its savage beak. Mr. H. D. Minot tells of
watching a goshawk press into a company of pine grosbeaks
and seize one in each foot. Happily the agony is short, for a
hawk's talons penetrate the vitals.

Although a northern ranger, the goshawk nests early in
April or early May and placing a quantity of twigs and grasses
close to the trunk of a tree, anywhere from fifteen to seventy
feet from the ground, both mates take turns in attending to the
nursery duties after from two to four pale bluish green eggs
(that fade to dull white) have been laid. Now the hawks are
more audacious and vicious than ever, as their piercing cries
indicate, and it is an irrepressible collector who dares rob them.


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc.

Red-tailed Hawk

(Buteo borealisj


Length Male 20 inches; female 23 inches.

Male and Female Upper parts dark grayish brown ; the feathers
edged with rufous, white, gray, and tawny ; the wing cov-
erts lack the rufous shade ; tail rusty red, tipped with
white and with a narrow black band near its end, but
silvery gray on the under side. Under parts buff or whit-
ish, with heaviest brown or blackish markings on the flanks
and underneath, often forming an imperfect band across the
lower breast. Immature birds lack the red tail, their tails
being grayish, or like the back, with numerous black bars.

Range Eastern United States, west to the great plains ; nesting
throughout its range.

Season Permanent resident ; partly migratory.

With a wing spread of four feet, the red-tailed hawk, no less
than the red-shouldered species, is a conspicuous object in the
sky, especially in August and September, when all hawks
appear to be less hungry and vicious than usual, and constantly
and serenely sailing and gyrating high overhead, beyond
thought of mundane concerns/ Lacking the dash and address of
Cooper's hawk, this far larger, heavier buzzard is rather leis-
urely, not to say slow, of movement. Mounting higher and
higher in a spiral till it appears a mere speck in the blue, it will
sail and float, ascending, descending, in long undulations, then,
when rising and circling, with no perceptible vibration of its
wings, it will suddenly lift them to a point above the back and
shoot earthward like a meteor. Catching itself just as you
believe it must certainly dash itself to pieces, again it rises, with
bounds, on broad wings to enjoy the stratum of cooler air, high
above the tree tops, all these hardy birds delight in. One hawk
was watched in the air, without once alighting, from seven in
the morning till four in the afternoon.

When not in the act of sailing, the most likely position to
find this majestic air king in is perched on a tree at the edge of a

Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc.

patch of woods, a dead limb near water, or above low open fields
or swamps, and there, intent and eager, it will wait hours and
hours for its quarry to come within range. Then, like feathered
lightning, down it flashes and strikes its prey. One never sees
this hawk dashing through the air in pursuit of a victim, as the
sharp-shinned, Cooper's hawk and the goshawk do. It may
sometimes pounce upon a bird a-wing, but humbler quarry gen-
erally takes it to earth. Of the five hundred and sixty-two
stomachs of red-tailed hawks examined by Mr. Fisher for the
Department of Agriculture, one-half contained mice, about one-
third other mammals, fifty-four contained poultry or game birds ;
and batrachians or reptiles, insects, etc., filled part of the re-
mainder, eighty-nine being empty. Captain Bendire, in his
valuable book prepared for the Government, says : "Unfortu-
nately the red-tailed hawk has a far worse reputation with the
average farmer than it really deserves ; granting that it does cap-
ture a chicken or one of the smaller game birds now and then
and this seems to be the case only in winter, when such food as
they usually subsist on is scarce it can be readily proved that it
is far more beneficial than otherwise, and really deserves protec-
tion, instead of having a bounty placed on its head, as has been
the case in several states."

Around the nest especially, though one sometimes hears its
squealing whistle, like "escaping steam," as it floats overhead,
at any season, the red-tail becomes more noisy, but its voice is
rather weak, considering the size of the bird. About eighty per
cent, of all nests found have been in birch trees, and placed from
sixty to seventy feet from the ground. A large bundle of sticks,
lined with strips of bark, twigs, and feathers from the birds
themselves, is placed usually where some large limb branches
off from the trunk; and so dear does this rude cradle become to
the mates that jointly prepare it, it will be used year after year
if the hawks are unmolested. * From two to four dull white
eggs, with rough, granulated shells, often scantily and irregularly
marked with shades of cinnamon, take about four weeks of close
incubation, in which both the devoted lovers and parents assist.
.It is believed these birds, like most of their kin, remain mated
for life. *The helpless, downy young remain in the nest until
fully able to fly. Hawks usually bolt their food, and around a
nest are abundant traces of the hearty appetite of a voung family,


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc.

the tufts of mouse hair and pellets of other disgorged, indigestible
material plentifully besprinkling the ground.

The Western Red-tail (Buteo borealis calurus), a darker
colored race than the preceding, differs from it in no essential

Red-shouldered Hawk

(Buteo borealis)


Length Male 1 8 to 20 inches; female 20 to 22 inches.

Male and Female Rich dark reddish brown above, the feathers
more or less edged with rufous, buff and whitish; lesser
wing coverts rusty red, forming a conspicuous patch on
shoulders; four outer feathers of wings notched and all
barred with black and white; tail dark with white bars;
under parts rusty or buff, the throat streaked with blackish,
elsewhere irregularly barred with white; feet and nostrils
yellow. Immature birds plain dark brown above, the wing
patch sometimes indicated, sometimes not; head, neck,
and under parts pale buff, fully streaked with dark brown ;
wing and tail quills crossed with many light and dark bars.

Range Eastern North America from Manitoba and Nova Scotia
to the Gulf states and Mexico, westward to Texas and the
great plains ; nests throughout its range.

Season Permanent resident.

To shoot this commonest of the hawks has long been
regarded as a virtue among farmers in the unfounded belief that
it is an enemy to their prosperity; but the Department of Agri-
culture has prepared a special bulletin on the hawks and owls for
their enlightenment, and the two so-called "hen hawks" have
proved to be among the most valuable allies the farmer has. Of
two hundred and twenty stomachs of the red-shouldered hawk
examined by Mr. Fisher, only three contained remains of poul-
try; one hundred and two contained mice; ninety-two insects;
forty, moles and other small mammals; thirty-nine, batrachians;
twenty, reptiles; sixteen, spiders; twelve, birds; seven, craw-
fish; three, fish; two, offal; one, earthworms: and fourteen


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc.

were empty. Let the guns be turned toward those bloodthirsty,
Audacious miscreants, Cooper's, the sharp-shinned hawk, and
the goshawk, and away from the red-tailed and red-shouldered
species, beneficent, majestic kings of the air! Longfellow, in
"The Birds of Killingworth," among the "Tales of a Wayside
Inn," has written a defence of the hawks, among other birds,
that the Audubon societies might well use as a tract.

Sailing in wide circles overhead like the larger red-tail, the
red-shouldered buzzard is a picture of repose in motion. Rising,
falling in long undulations, floating, balancing in a strong current
of the cool stratum of air far above the earth all this hardy tribe
delight in, now stationary on motionless wings, and again with
a superb swoop a very meteor for speed, the flight of this
hawk has been familiar to us all from childhood, yet who ever
tires watching its fascinating grace ? Serenely the hawk pursues
its way, ignoring the impudence of the small kingbird in pursuit
and the indignities of the crow that may not reach the dizzy
heights toward which it soars in wide spirals. While the mates
are nesting from April to August, the helpless fledglings give
them little opportunity to enjoy these leisurely sails; but toward
the end of August, particularly in September, and throughout the
winter, they are birds of freedom indeed. Keeyou, keeyou, they
scream as they sail a cry the blue jay out of pure mischief has
learned to imitate to perfection. It is the red-tail, however, that
screams most a-wing.

"Toward man the 'hen hawks' are naturally shy," says
Minot; "but it is generally easy to approach them when gorged,
or at other times to do so in a vehicle or on horseback. On
a horse I have actually passed under one. They frequently leave
their food when approached, instead of carrying it off in the
manner of many hawks. Like other barbarians, they refuse to
show signs of suffering, or to allow their spirit to become
subdued. When shot and mortally wounded they usually sail
on unconcernedly while their strength lasts, until obliged to fall.
If not dead, they turn upon their rump, and fight till the last, like
others of their tribe. Their eyes gleam savagely and they defend
themselves with both bill and talons. With these latter, if
incautiously treated, they can inflict severe wounds, and they
sometimes seize a stick with such tenacity that I have seen one
carried half a mile through his persistent grasp."


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc.

The red-shouldered hawk spends most of its life perching,
usually on some distended dead limb where, like an eagle in
its dignity, it watches for mice and moles to creep through the
meadow, chipmunks to run. along stone walls, gophers and
young rabbits to play about the edges of woods, frogs, snakes,
etc., to move along the sluggish streams of low woodlands, its
favorite hunting grounds. It is not shy, and when it perches
may be quite closely approached and watched as it descends like
a thunderbolt to strike its humble quarry, that is usually borne
aloft to be devoured piecemeal. One never sees this hawk
chasing a bird through the air as the tyrannical Cooper's hawk
does. In nesting habits there is no noteworthy difference from
the red-tails', beyond that the eggs are a trifle smaller.

Swainson's Hawk or Buzzard (Buteo Swainsont), an infrequent
visitor east of the Mississippi, is nevertheless the commonest of
all its tribe in some sections of the West. In the many phases of
plumage shown between infancy and old age, this large, amiable
fellow may always be distinguished by the three notched outer
primaries of his wings taken in connection with his size, about
twenty inches, and his dusky brown upper parts more or less
margined with rufous or buff; the unbarred primaries of wings;
his grayish tail indistinctly barred with blackish, which shows
more plainly from the under side; the large rusty patch on his
breast, and by the white or buff under parts that are streaked,
spotted, or barred with blackish, rusty, or buff. Preeminently
a prairie bird, it prefers the watercourses of lowlands that are
scantily timbered and the cultivated fields for hunting grounds,
since mice, gophers, frogs, grasshoppers, crickets, and such fare
rarely if ever a bird are what it is ever seeking. Therefore
from the most selfish of economic standpoints it should enjoy the
fullest protection. Gentle, unsuspicious, living on excellent
terms with its humblest feathered neighbor, mated for life to its
larger spouse, and an unselfish, devoted parent, Swainson's
hawk has more than the average number of virtues to commend
it to mankind.


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc.

Broad-winged Hawk

(Buteo latissimus)

Length Male 14 inches; female 16 inches.

Male and Female Upper parts dusky grayish brown more or less
bordered with rusty and buff; blackish tail with two bars
and the tip grayish white ; three outer primaries of wings
notched; under parts heavily barred with white or buff
and dull chestnut brown, the dark in excess on the front
parts, the white predominant underneath; most of the feath-
ers black shafted, giving the effect of pencilling, particularly
on white throat; wing linings white with some reddish or
blackish spotting.

Range Eastern North America from New Brunswick and the
Saskatchewan to the Gulf of Mexico, northern South America
and the West Indies; nests throughout its United States

Season Summer resident. May to October.

This is the hawk of the Adirondacks among other favorite
resorts, and since it comes north chiefly to nest, no place is too
inaccessible for it to seek out, no retreat too lonely for these
devoted mates, that ever delight most of all in each other's
company. While its range is wide, it is locally common in a few
places and rare in others, a lover of wild, unvisited regions while
it has serious concerns to attend to, and only during the spring
and autumn migrations, therefore is it much in evidence ; but no-
where and at no time so common about farms and the habita-
tions of men as the red-tailed and the red-shouldered "chicken
hawks" that, on the contrary, have nothing to do with mountain

Yet the broad-winged species is perhaps the least suspicious
and approachable hawk we have ; gentle and never offering to
strike at an intruder no matter in what distress of mind concern-
ing its nest; inoffensive to its smallest feathered neighbor;
lacking in the spirit and dash of a Cooper's hawk, and also in
that murderer's bloodthirstiness ; and quiet except just near its
home. There one sometimes hears the chee-e-e-e of one mate
sitting on some distended dead limb, answered by the other lover
for hours at a time during the nesting season. Like most of its
tribe, both mates construct a bulky nest of twigs high in some tree
close to the trunk, and, if necessary, will repair an old nest from


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc.

year to year rather than leave a beloved home. From two to
four dull or buff white eggs spotted, blotched, or washed with
yellow or cinnamon brown, keep both parents closely confined
by turns during the four weeks of early summer that must elapse
before the downy helpless fledglings begin to clamor for grass-
hoppers, beetles, crickets, mice, gophers, squirrels, shrews,
small snakes and frogs (very rarely small birds), that must be
consumed in large quantities judging from the quantity of pellets
of hair and other indigestible material found below the cradle.
The farmer has every reason to protect so valuable an ally.

Although it appears sluggish, and even stupid, when perch-
ing after a gorge, the broad-winged hawk naturally would be a
graceful, easy flyer. Gliding through the air in spirals so high
that one sometimes loses sight of its heavy, broad body, it has
been seen swooping suddenly to earth, like a meteor; then catch-
ing itself before dashing its body to pieces on the mountain side,
it will fly off, with short, rapid strokes, at high speed.

The Rough-legged Hawk (Archibuteo lagopus sancti-johan-
nis) the hare-footed hawk of St. John, New Brunswick is
almost too variable in plumage to be briefly described, but whether
in its dark, almost blackish, phase, when it is known as the black
hawk; or in the light phase, when its dusky upper parts are
mixed with much white and buff, and its whitish under parts
are streaked and spotted with black to form a band across the
lower chest, it may always be known by its fully feathered legs.
In the United States it is chiefly a spring and autumn migrant,
or a winter visitor, for it goes to the fur countries to nest. The
material for a cradle, usually placed on a cliff, would fill a
wheelbarrow. Its range is over the whole United States, Alaska,
and the British possessions. One occasionally meets this large,
heavy prowler at the dusk of evening, when mice and the other
small rodents, crickets and such humble quarry creep timidly
forth, flying with noiseless, measured, owl-like pace, quite low
along the ground, like the harrier, and ready to pounce upon a
victim. Or again, it may be sitting on a low branch, sluggishly
waiting for its prey to come within striking distance. Its choice
of food is calculated to win for the hawk the friendship of the
intelligent farmer.


Kites. Hawks, Eagles, etc.

Golden Eagle

( ' Aquila chrysaetos)


Length Male 30 to 35 inches; female 5 inches longer.

Male and Female Back of the head and nape pale yellow ; lower
two-thirds of tail white, leaving a broad, dark band across
end; legs entirely feathered with white; rest of plumage
dusky brown. Immature birds are similar, darker; base of
tail has broken grayish bars, and feathers on legs and under
tail coverts are buff. Perfect plumage not developed under
three years. Birds "grow gray" with age.

Range North America, south to Mexico; nesting within United
States, Europe, and Northern Asia.

Season Permanent resident.

" He clasps the crag with hooked hands;
Close to the sun, in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls:
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls."


Restricted chiefly to the mountainous parts of unsettled
regions on three continents, this magnificent bird is best known
on this one to the Indians, who write no bird books, however.
It is their emblem for whatever is courageous, fierce, and suc-
cessful in war. All birds of prey typify these qualities to the
Indian mind, it is true, but the eagle stands at the lead; its feath-
ers, fit head-dress for any chief, were chosen to inspire him with
the bird's prowess. The buzzards and eagles represent their old
men those sages who have little hair, or those whose locks are
white hence to these birds have the secrets and the wisdom of
ages been confided, and a respect akin to worship is shown
them. What the imperial eagle meant to the terrorized ancients
we can little guess in these days of democratic ideals. From the
bird's majestic soaring, what more natural than to suppose it
communicated directly with the gods on Mount Olympus, and
was Jove's favored messenger ? Certain Asiatic tribes believe


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc.

that arrows plumed with eagle quills certainly reach the heart of
an enemy ; but what connection there may or may not be be-
tween these beliefs and those of our redskins no ethnologist has

Larger than the European golden eagle, and in every way
"better," our golden eagle "is a clean, trim-looking, handsome
bird," says Captain Bendire, "keen sighted, rather shy and wary
at all times, even in thinly settled parts of the country, swift of
flight, strong and powerful of body, and more than a match for

Online LibraryNeltje BlanchanBirds that hunt and are hunted; life histories of one hundred and seventy birds of prey, game birds and water fowls → online text (page 25 of 29)