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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Red-tailed Hawk, Brown Creeper and Ruby-crowned Kinglet

[Wolcott Mill and Lake St. Clair Metroparks. MI. Late Oct/Early Nov 2014]

Living in Southwest Florida, one could not be faulted for thinking that the title of commonest hawk in the US belongs to the Red-shouldered Hawk by virtue if its near ubiquity in these parts.

However, this worthy distinction is claimed not by the Red-shouldered Hawk but by the featured Accipter of this post -- the Red-tailed Hawk whose massive range stretches across the whole of the North American continent and is found in every state of the Union (excepting Hawaii). In Southwest Florida, it is a winter visitor to its Red-shouldered cousin.

Besides the hawk, we will also review recent sightings of Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-breasted Nuthatch and some common woodland species.

We start with the hawk:

Red-tailed Hawk seen at Wolcott Mill Metropark
Two sub-adults were sighted; one at Wolcott Mill and the other at Lake St. Clair Metroparks -- their tails not as deeply red as a fully mature adult.

Red-tailed Hawk seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
Apart from their trademark red tail, Red-tailed Hawks offer little consistent identification marks owing to a high degree of variability with Pale, Rufous, Dark and Light morphs of the species occurring in the wild. Hence, the best way, in addition to size and shape, is to look for a square tail, yellow eyes and powerful yellow legs (eg., consider these individuals spotted in Arizona and California).

The red tail on this sub-adult is more brown than red
This individual seen at Lake St. Clair was hypnotized by the mouth-watering activity at a bird feeder behind the Nature Center at the park. Thus transfixed, it permitted close approach:

Close-up profile of a Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawks have a preference for small mammals but birds also figure in their diet.

While it would be hard to overlook the hawk, our next bird has been described as a "moving piece of bark" -- the Brown Creeper:

Brown Creeper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Brown Creepers appear cloaked in invisibility -- their diminutive size, cryptic coloration and fast movements make them difficult to see and (virtually) impossible to photograph.

Like the Hawk, the Creeper is found coast to coast in the US and is a year-round resident in its range although some Northern populations do undertake migratory movements.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (note small red patch on crown)
The Ruby-crowned Kinglet, on the other hand, is strongly migratory. A kinglet is a "small king" and this bird indeed sports a tiny patch of red on its crown -- a feature that, unfortunately, is mostly hidden.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet seen at Wolcott Mill Metropark
This is one of our two Kinglet species -- identifiable by its small size, neckless body and bold eye-ring.

Sharing the Creeper's penchant for vertical climbing, the White-breasted Nuthatch is much more easily seen -- being larger, brighter and noisier.

White-breasted Nuthatch seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
We conclude with some common woodland species:

A delightful corvid, a Blue Jay, seen at Wolcott Mill:

The delicately hued, slender billed and long-tailed Mourning Dove:

... and, finally, the Red-bellied Woodpecker:

In "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", the poet extraordinaire Robert Frost wrote -- "The woods are lovely, dark and deep".  And, for a birder, these words ring true in countless ways -- from the lovely sounds of a nuthatch, the deep red of a kinglet's crown to the dark tail of a hawk -- there is a living avian poem in every habitat in a birder's world as this quick survey of woodland species so aptly attests.

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