When Red-tails Die

Normally we see red-tailed hawks soaring.

This is a young red-tail. His coloring is lacking and he won't be mature until he's about 2 years old.

This is a young red-tail. His tail will become red after he’s about 2 years old.

Very seldom do we see dead red-tailed hawks. If we do, it is usually along side a road. Red-tails often hunt from a perch and there are plenty of perches along the sides of our country roads. If a hawk dives on a ground squirrel or other rodent, it may do so into a passing car. A couple years ago I collided with a red-shouldered hawk that way.

My friend Joe checked out a road-killed red-tail recently and found it to be banded by the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. This is a group that calls the Golden Gate National Recreation Area it’s home and bands birds of prey each fall. I apprenticed for them about fifteen years ago. It was a fun way to put my hands on a few hawks. You can’t get any closer while they’re alive.

As unusual as it is to see a dead red-tail, it’s even less likely that you will observe a red-tail dying, but that is what I did a couple days ago.

While walking along my usual hiking trail, a red-tail appeared face down just off the trail. Curious, I walked over and poked the bird with a stick. It moved. It appeared to be barely alive, but not wanting to interfere, I left it alone and checked on it again on my way back to the truck. At that point the bird was dead.

photo

This hawk was dying when I found it beside a walking trail.

This hawk was dying when I found it beside a walking trail.

I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to this bird. It appeared to be a healthy bird, with all it’s plumage in place and no apparent wounds. Could it have died in a mid-air collision? Not likely. Could it have received a wound from a competing hawk? Small chance of that.

When I spoke with my biologist friend, Joe, I asked him what he thought. That’s when he told me about the dead hawk along the side of Vasco Road. He added that the most likely killer of a mature red-tail hawk is secondary poisoning from rodenticides. Having observed the slow death of this hawk first hand, poisoning is logical.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodenticide

Who puts out rodenticides that can poison predators? Ranchers use rodenticides to kill California ground squirrels, so that is a possibility. Since this trail is near a golf course, I’d have to imagine that the greenskeepers might use rodenticides to kill gophers and ground squirrels that invade the fairways.

http://www.dfg.ca.gov/education/rodenticide/

It’s now common for marijuana growers to use rodenticides to kill rodents that attack their valuable crop.

When it comes to the death of this red-tail at Del Valle Reservoir, my judgement is very speculative.

I’m not a fan of rodenticides.

Secondary poisoning is one of the reasons we don’t use them on our ranch.

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