The Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered hawks seem to have increased their range over my lifetime. This is an observation and may or may not be true. They are most often seen in riparian areas. They are very vocal and their call is loud.

They are a member of the Buteo family of raptors and their wings appear a bit stubby, apparently to help them fly through trees and brush while pursuing their prey.

Here are a couple of my best red-shouldered hawk photos. These pictures are of the same hawk, that flew to a pond where I was standing with camera in hand.


Golden Eagle Band #629-41062

Over the years I’ve collected the bands of waterfowl, mostly mallards, but also a greater Canada goose, greater snow goose, one sprig and a greater white-front goose.

Once upon a time I actually participated in banding raptors at the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory as a beginner at the Marin headlands. And, the band of a sharp-shinned hawk (one of the few I personally banded), was recovered and reported. It was surprising to read the report in the Raptor Observatory newsletter.

Today, Rob and I recovered a band from a non-waterfowl bird. It was the band of a golden eagle, probably one the eagles we have often observed and maybe even photographed.

The carcass of the bird was found along side the road to our ranch. It was deteriorated and rotten, but there was a band on its leg – a band that led to a great deal of interesting information about the bird.

The band report said that the bird was banded in 1996 near the Arroyo Sanitorium (about four miles south of Livermore California) and that it was hatched in 1993 or earlier. It was female. Now, over 20 years later, and at the age of 24 years or greater, the bird is dead, a testimony to the ability of eagles to survive in our modern world full of obstacles and danger.

After 20+ years, the dead bird was found only about five miles from where it was banded. Based upon a quick internet search, it appears that this bird lived to be quite old for a wild North American golden eagle.


The 20-year-old band was scratched and scared. The diameter of the band is approximately equal to the diameter of a quarter.

Ferruginous Hawk

For a while I’ve been seeing a ferruginous hawk along ranch road and I’ve been hoping to take a good photograph of the hawk. A few days ago I took some photographs of a ferruginous hawk on my way to the ranch. I’m not sure if it was the same hawk, but it probably was.

The ferruginous hawks belong to the broad wing family and are buteos  as are the red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered hawks. They hunt from the air or from perches and they glide in the thermals along with the eagles and vultures.

These photographs are not great, but they will clearly show the marking of a light morph ferruginous hawk.

For comparison, here are a couple red-tailed hawk photos.

In California habitats red-tailed hawks are usually the most common large raptor.

Eagle Fight

On my way home from the ranch today, I came upon two eagles that I believe I’ve seen before. The first time I saw them was about a month ago and they seemed to be fighting over food.

Today I came around a corner in nearly the same spot and the two eagles were on the ground next to each other about 150 yards off the road. One of them, a bald eagle, took off, but the second eagle stayed on the ground.

Sensing that I may get a photo opportunity, I rolled down my window and grabbed my camera, which was ready for action. And, it was a good thing.

The bald eagle flew over my truck and I was happy to get a couple photos of the bird in flight.

DSC_0040[1] bald eagle soaring

The golden eagle remained on the ground for a moment and then took off with the bald eagle in pursuit.

DSC_0040[1] golden eagle

It appeared that the golden eagle was carrying prey.

DSC_0047[1] golden eagle fleeing with prey

A couple ravens joined in the melee.

DSC_0058[1] eagles and ravens

Then the bald eagle went on the attach.

DSC_0059[1] eagles engage

DSC_0060[1] eagles fight over squirrel

They fought over a ground squirrel until  it fell towards the ground.

DSC_0061[1] ground squirrel falls

The fight continued as the birds plummeted downward.

DSC_0062[1] eagles continue to fall

Eventually the golden eagle recovered it’s food. But it may have been injured.

DSC_0063[1] golden recovers squirrel

The bald eagle was left to watch.

DSC_0069[1] bald eagle watches

Not sure what happened next as I had to get home for my own dinner.



Eaglets and Fawns

On the way home from the ranch last week.

First fawns of the season. There are two of them hiding in the grass to the left of the doe.DSC_0496[1] doe and twin fawns

Eagle and eaglets. There are two eaglets, but they are laying low in the nest, behind the adult. Only their downy white heads stand out.

DSC_0485[1] golden eagle and eaglets

Survival  of young animals is often based upon their ability to stay out of sight.

Eagle and Ravens

On the way home from the ranch last week, I spotted two ravens and something else in the grass about 150 yards off the road. I figured it might be something interesting so I began taking photos before I’d identified the target.

Turns out it was a golden eagle guarding a ground squirrel that it had just killed.

eagle and ravens on squirrel carcass DSC_0207 cropped

Eventually the eagle spotted my truck and got nervous. He took off with the squirrel in his grasp, but it wasn’t long before he dropped it.

I snapped a  couple shots as he flew by.

eagle in flight DSC_0211[1] cropped

I felt bad that he left his meal behind, but I’m sure the ravens made short work of it.


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.


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.

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.

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.

Another Day Up in a Tree

First archery deer hunt of the season. I had no idea what to expect as I hadn’t been up to the ranch in over a month. As far as deer hunting went, it was a total bust. The winds were blustery and the deer didn’t show. Not one.

However, I did take some photos and three were worthy of publication. Here’s they are:

As I watched a covey of quail feeding along the edges of nearby brush, a raptor swooped in and the quail scattered in all directions. It was a female northern harrier (used to call them marsh hawks).


This harrier circled several times, but never got hold of the quail it was after.

With the harrier in motion, my only chance for a good photo was when he passed in direct sun. The shutter speed on my camera was fast enough in auto mode to produce a sharp photo.


Late in the day, several birds landed near me in the laurel tree my stand was in. One of them was a chickadee.


This chestnut-backed chickadee moved about quickly.

Then came a pair of plain titmouses. In the fading light, I struggled to get a sharp image, but these two were worthwhile.

In the shade, I wasn't sure if I'd get an acceptable photo of the titmouses, but one of the shots worked out.




Swainson’s Hawk in Flight

Last week we were out in the Altamont and came upon a pair of Swainson’s hawks. From nearly a half mile away, I snapped a few photos with my 200mm Nikon lens. They came out OK, so here they are. You can see the charactaristics of the Swainson’s hawk quite well.

For comparison purposes, here’s a redtail photo from my files. Redtails are the most common buteo in our area.

Soaring red-tailed hawk.

Spring in the Altamont

We remained a ways off from the burrowing owls, not to disturb them.

Joe spotted a couple Swainson’s hawks gliding high overhead. Red-tails were hanging around a stand of eucalyptus trees and a ferruginous hawk was spotted on the horizon. 

Several Swainsons hawks passed high overhead.

 Joe also found a young king snake under a board. We took quite a few photos of the willing snake.

We found this very small king snake under a board.


 Burrowing owls were in their usual haunts. It was a nice day to observe.