- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
I was cooking hot dogs over an open fire on our lawn this past September, when I heard violent scrambling on the bark of a tall Norway spruce tree bordering our yard.
Looking up, I saw a red-tailed hawk chasing a gray squirrel among the needled boughs. The undersides of the hawk’s wings flashed white as that raptor pursued the squirrel around the trunk.
Within a few seconds, however, the rodent escaped and the hawk left the tree.
Seeing that red-tailed hawk chasing a squirrel made me think of other hawks I saw hunting animals on suburban lawns. Driving along a few years ago, I saw a red-tail low on the wing chasing a gray squirrel across a short-grass lawn.
A second later, the hawk had its intended prey in its sharp, curved claws. The hawk and squirrel tumbled over each other in a flurry of outstretched wings and furry tail. I drove on, assuming the predator was eating its victim.
During a blizzard one winter day, I peered out the window at my writing desk at home and saw a sharp-shinned hawk standing on snow on our lawn with a dead house sparrow in its talons.
After looking around for danger, the sharpy used its sharp, curved beak to tear chunks of meat off the sparrow. Feathers blew away with the wind-driven snow as the hawk dined.
Finally, the sharpy finished its meal and flew off into the blizzard. Only the sparrow’s bill and a foot remained, which were quickly buried by drifting snow.
Small birds of several kinds, including house sparrows and mourning doves, come to our birdfeeder on our lawn. And so do one or two Cooper’s hawks—to catch sparrows and doves.
Sparrows dive into nearby shrubbery when a Cooper’s swoops at them, and the doves wing swiftly away. The hunting Coop scrambles through the bushes after the sparrows or powers after a dove. Over the years, two doves hit the window at my writing desk, startling them and me.
Cooper’s hawks are not always successful in catching prey in their claws. But when they are, they take their victims to trees, where they consume their meal. Look for these hawks in the yards of your neighborhood. Those raptors are exciting to experience, especially on lawns at home.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.