Watching hawks in winter

Red-Tailed Hawk

Many Red-Tailed Hawks are overwintering in the valley. Driving the backroads in the prairie pothole ecosystem west of the mountains, I often see several per mile—often perching and watching but also often hunting.

“Nature is a haunted house—but Art—is a house that tries to be haunted.” –Emily Dickinson

It’s been below zero this week. I thought most of the Red-tailed Hawks would migrate to somewhere warmer, with less snow. But the density of hawks in the prairie ecosystem west of the mountains, is dense. One can almost always see one or several, perching and hunting alone.

I just learned they are monogamous and often mate for life. They share the work of brooding their young each year. The female does most of the incubation and the male brings her food. The young fledge at about 45 days, but some of the young remain with their parents as long as six months.

These facts don’t fit the image I had formed of them, hunting individually through the summer. In July I saw one perched on a fencepost, holding down the shredded remains of a baby skunk with his talons and ripping off strips of flesh with his bloody beak. His brow was genetically angled to make him look angry, and his beak formed a perpetual frown. He was the very image of ferocity and cruelty.

Of course, he was neither a loving spouse nor an evil monster, but a hawk. He cannot see his meal from both his point of view and that of the skunks. Eating is not a moral situation.

This entry was posted in Montana.