In for the kill: Witnessing a top predator in action

Red-tailed hawk (Photo by Bill Hubick)

Red-tailed hawk (Photo by Bill Hubick)

November 29, 2016 | by Adam Hunter | 0 Comments

I remember the first time I saw a predator in action, face-to-face, like it was yesterday. I was 10 years old and had just finished a scrumptious meal at a restaurant in Mississauga, Ontario, with my parents. As my dad was driving out of the parking lot, I noticed a large bird perched on the ground beside the restaurant. Being the curious kid I was, I immediately asked my dad to stop the car so I could watch the bird. 

The unidentified bird was brown on top with a pale, streaked underside and a cinnamon-red tail, and after taking a closer look, I realized it was eating a seagull! I couldn’t believe my eyes, as I had only ever seen a predator eating its prey on TV. It continued to pick away at its kill, eating flesh and feathers alike. It was a good thing we had already eaten because witnessing this fascinating yet gruesome scene may have ruined our appetites. 

After observing the bird for some time, my parents were ready to go. When I got home, I checked out the hawk section of my North American bird field guide to see if I could identify it, and discovered it was a red-tailed hawk. It was easy to distinguish this hawk from other common hawk species because of its namesake — the red tail. The following Monday at school, I was so excited about what I saw that I told all of my friends about it, as it had definitely been the highlight of my weekend. Everyone was surprised I had witnessed such an event in a busy city because they had only seen hunts on TV specials, which typically showed these happenings in remote areas. However, red-tailed hawks have adapted to human behaviour and can often be seen perched on telephone poles and fence posts, using these vantage points to seek out potential prey such as voles, mice and squirrels. 

Red-tailed hawk (Photo by Lorne)

Red-tailed hawk (Photo by Lorne)

About 12 years later, I encountered another red-tailed hawk. This time, I was sitting on a bench reading in the garden outside my dad’s condo. It was a bright, pleasant summer afternoon and there were plenty of squirrels running around and climbing trees. 

Suddenly, I heard a loud screeching noise accompanied by rustling in a nearby tree. I looked up from my book to find, below a nearby coniferous tree, a red-tailed hawk clasping a black squirrel in its sharp talons. The raptor proceeded to feast on its recent capture.

Back when I was 10 and saw the hawk eating the seagull, I didn’t own a cell phone to capture the moment. This time around, I had one with me to film this incredible sight. In fact, I still have the video on my cell phone to this day!

Based on my run-ins with this red-tail hawk, even if you live in the city, you don’t have to go very far to witness a predator in action. Whether your home is surrounded by skyscrapers or lush forests, nature is all around us to appreciate.

About the Author

Adam Hunter Adam became part of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s team in October 2016.

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