Foam Lake Birding No. 171

No. 171
            After being in Calgary for a week I had hoped to return home to nicer spring-like weather.  Not so.  However, on  our way home we took a break in Medicine Hat and the temperature there was 16C.  Nice.  It was just east of there that we saw our first Red Tailed Hawk of the season but with the amount of snow that we have here it will still be awhile before one is seen locally. 
            The Red Tailed is the most common and widespread hawk in all of North America including much of Mexico.  In Canada it is found everywhere as a summer resident except on the Tundra.  It is not highly migratory leaving most of Canada for the central US in the winter.  In most of the US and Mexico it is a year round resident migrating south from the north central states and a north from southern Mexico. 
            The Red Tailed Hawk is a powerful bird that can take prey the size of a half grown skunk or rabbit but prefers the ubiquitous Richardson's Ground Squirrel (gopher).  I have actually seen them take both rabbits and gophers.  It is quite an experience.  Once a hawk zeroes in on a small animal caught out in the open lunch quickly follows.  Escape is difficult. 
            Save for the eagles the Red Tailed along with the Swainson's and Northern Harrier (formerly, Marsh Hawk) is one of the largest hawks in our area.  Because the Red Tailed is spread out over such a large area it is only natural that there would be considerable colour variations.  In fact the Red Tailed varies from very light to very dark and with everything in between.  Formerly the pale race was known as a distinct species called Krider's Hawk and the dark race was known as Harlan's Hawk and the two races are still referred to as such.  However, the most common form is a brownish bird with light under parts sporting a dark spotted breast band.  Except for the Kriders and Harlans forms (and juveniles) all Red Tailed Hawks have rusty red tails when viewed from the top.  Males and females are the same.  It should be noted that the Swainson's Hawk also has light and commonly dark colour phases so care must be exercised when identifying dark and light hawks.  Locally, a large hawk sitting on a power pole is probably the Red Tailed.
            Red Tails nest in trees and preferably in tall mature Aspens near water.  The nest is a large ungainly affair made of sticks built at least five metres high  and is usually reused from year to year.  Occasionally Great Horned Owls will take a nest for themselves forcing the hawks to build a new one elsewhere.  Between one to three young are usually reared annually. 
            This week's picture was taken two years ago near Coronach, SK. where there were plenty of gophers and a corresponding number of hawks to prey on them.  The dark breast band is clearly visible. 
            Finally, I have had two further reports of Boreal Owls in town.  One apparently spent most of the winter in one particular yard right in town; the other was found dead in a garage.  I do not know if this represents three different birds or only one very friendly bird flying around visiting different yards.  I hope it is the former because I hate to think that the dead one was the only one.