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Nature Note: Three hawks of Skiatook

Nature Note: Three hawks of Skiatook


There are three groups of hawks and we have examples of each, resident year-round, in the Skiatook area.

The groups are accipters, buteos, and falcons. Accipiters are “bird hawks” and, as the common name implies, their chief food is birds. They have long tails and short, rounded wings, which enable them to fly through wooded areas in pursuit of birds.

Our resident accipiter is the Cooper’s hawk. In winter we will also see sharp-shinned hawks, a smaller lookalike cousin of the Cooper’s hawk.

Buteos are the “buzzard hawks” or soaring hawks. They are large, heavy-bodied hawks with broad wings and wide, rounded tails. Their food includes rodents, rabbits, reptiles, and large insects like grasshoppers. These are the hawks we see soaring high overhead in the summertime.

The two that are resident year-round are the red-tailed hawk and the red-shouldered hawk. Red-tailed hawks prefer open country and in winter can be seen perched on utility poles along roadways.

The red-shouldered hawk is seen more often in wooded areas. During migration and in winter we are likely to see several other buteos, including Swainson’s hawk, ferruginous hawk, broad-winged hawk, and rough-legged hawk. We have seen all of them at our place near Skiatook in north Tulsa County.

Falcons make up the third group. They are streamlined birds of prey and have long pointed wings and long tails. They hunt from the air and their prey includes birds, rodents, and insects.

The American kestrel is the only falcon we have year-round in the Skiatook area. During winter we may see merlins, peregrine falcons, and prairie falcons. We’ve seen all three at our place.

The peregrine is an amazing bird of prey. It hunts from the sky and dives down on its prey. In a power dive, it pumps its wings to gain speed, then folds them just before it strikes, with its talons closed like a fist. The impact breaks the neck of the prey. Peregrines will reach a speed of over 200 miles per hour in a dive, 240 mph has been recorded!

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