Not many birds capture the spirit of flight like that of the hawk. These fierce birds of prey are large, predatory masters of flight that spend much of their day soaring high in the sky, defending territory and searching for prey. Connecticut has eight different hawk species that can be found throughout the state, all of which feed on a variety of rodents, birds, insects, and others.
The most common hawk in America is the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), this striking bird is in the genus, Buteo, which consists of large hawks that have broad wings meant for soaring. Soaring is a behavior often seen in many species where the bird uses rising air currents to help gain altitude quickly and effortlessly in flight. The broad wings allow for species such as hawks in the Buteo genus to achieve heights far greater than other species (such as songbirds) are capable of reaching.
Another Buteo species is the red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus). These hawks are smaller than their red-tailed hawk cousins and live a much different lifestyle. While red-tailed hawks commonly inhabit open-lands and fields, red-shouldered hawks inhabit thick woodlands and swamps. Like red-tails, red-shouldered hawks tend to feed on prey items such as squirrels, rabbits, and other rodents. Rarely do these hawks actively pursue prey, and they usually rely on stealth to accurately secure their quarry.
While large hawks such as red-tailed and red-shouldered rely on surprise to capture prey, sharp-shinned (Accipiter striatus) and cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) will both ambush and actively chase prey. Both of these hawks are in the Accipiter genus and are much smaller than their Buteo counterparts. They are nimble and lack the broad wings meant for soaring. These species of hawk are the ones responsible for the term “chickenhawk,” as both species have been known to raid chicken coops in hopes of nabbing a tasty meal.
This time of year, a massive migration of all species of hawks occurs throughout New England. State and national Audubon scientists and naturalists use this time to count all of the hawks that fly through the region. This time frame lasts from September to November or until the migration ceases.
Hawk species can be seen almost anywhere this time of year. Try hiking trails and lands managed by the Aspetuck Land Trust, or explore trails throughout Connecticut at CT Woodlands. Right now, the hawk watch is at its peak and there are several hotspots located around Easton. Check out hotspots on the official HawkCount website.
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