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La Grande Observer Paper 08/20/14

The LaGrande Observer is now online in a Replica E-edition form and publishes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Current subscribers have full access to the E-edition.

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Red-tails are farmers’ friend

I have chosen the red-tailed hawk as my bird of the month.

This abundant species belongs to a group called “buteos,” which are large, soaring birds of prey that feed mostly on mice, gophers and ground squirrels.

Their main hunting tactic is to hover over the fields or to perch on a dead tree or power pole, and when a rodent is spotted, they swoop down to grasp their prey in their talons to be eaten or taken to their nestlings.

Along with ferruginous and Swainsons hawks, they are plentiful in almost all open country habitats in Oregon, but the red-tails are by far the most numerous.

Identifying these hawks takes a keen eye due to the different color phases from dark to light plumage and telling the juveniles from the adults of each species.

Unfortunately, the red-tails were given the common name of “chickenhawk” so they were frequently killed by farmers and kids with .22-caliber rifles. Even though they do on rare occasion take a straying chicken or duck or game bird, today’s farmers and ranchers soon realized the benefits these hawks were in helping to control field mice. I don’t know of a single farmer who will ever shoot one of these hawks today.

The accompanying photo is of a juvenile red-tailed hawk perched on the crossarm of a power pole. I have counted as many as six hawks in one mile atop of power poles.

Now that so many of our backyard songbirds have gone south, it’s a good time for hawk-watching.

E.H. Van Blaricom of Joseph writes the Birds of a Feather column monthly for The Observer.

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