Life and death in the backyard

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Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are very much a part of our backyard. They are entertaining to watch. However, they also frustrate us by eating so much of our bird seed and digging where I’d rather they didn’t. When we saw a hawk eating one of them last week, I had mixed emotions.

Red-shouldered hawk eating a grey squirrel

I felt sad for the squirrel. Yet I also appreciate the majestic beauty of hawks and the part they play in the balance of nature. I know they must eat to survive. Bottom line, I’m glad to have seen this hawk at close range, and also glad we still have squirrels in the backyard.

After checking our bird guides and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornitholgy website, our best guess is that this is an immature red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus). If so, it’s the first one we’ve seen in our yard. If anyone has a different idea I’d be glad to hear from you.

11 thoughts on “Life and death in the backyard”

  1. Betty, I understand your conflict – red-shouldered hawks and cooper’s hawks frequent my yard. They come to hunt the GIANT population of squirrels, voles and chipmunks. I think I have this large population of rodents because I garden without chemicals and have lots of native plants. My neighbors do not. I leave the seed heads and stalks until spring and have noticed this provides cover and food for all kinds of wildlife. I can tell when there is a hawk in the yard or circling above because of the unnatural quiet. These birds are majestic and so necessary to the healthy balance of our natural environment. Thanks for posting the photo!

    1. Kathy, interested to know that you see red-shouldered hawks and that they are primarily interested in mammals. This encourages me to think what we saw was an immature red-shouldered. Thanks.

  2. Agreed here…..mixed emotions. Squirrels are abundant in our neighborhood as we have lots of trees, however, they not only destroy our attempt at feeding the birds but have chewed thru our shingles and made a home in our attic at times ; (. We have elected to reduce the population by trapping and relocating some to a local woodland park. Beautiful photo of the hawk Betty. Always look forward to and enjoy your photos and commentary.

    1. Thanks, Christine. It sounds as though you might welcome a visit from a hungry hawk. 🙂 I would not welcome holes in the roof or squirrels in the attic. Thank goodness, so far our squirrels are content toot nest in nearby trees.

  3. What a fantastic photo. These birds are so intense, I love the opportunity to really see them well. I’m happy that this juvenile is hunting successfully. Thanks, Betty.

    1. Thanks, Ann. Yes, it was a treat to see it so close and I, too, am glad that the juvenile is proving able to support itself.

    1. Thanks, Carter. I agree its a great looking bird. We’re still not totally sure if its a red-shoulder but checking with folks who know more about birds than we do.

  4. To all of Betty’s blog fans: My brother and sister are great birders up in Canada (Mike and Karen Ferguson). I forwarded Betty’s pics to them and this started a great learning experience. They noted the long tail and short wings which say that this is an accipiter, not a buteo. The sturdy legs pointed to Cooper’s Hawk. The wonderful Jim McCormac, birder extraordinaire, confirmed that this is an immature Cooper’s. You all might enjoy Jim’s blog, at http://jimmccormac.blogspot.com/ Thanks for Betty for her great blog and for providing the opportunity for this fun learning experience.

    1. Thanks Ann for getting comments from Mike, Karen and Jim. I’m now convinced the hawk was a Cooper’s instead of a Red-shouldered and will write about that in a future post. It has indeed been a great learning experience and I much appreciate your help.

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