Raptor Moments

By Jaya Ramanathan

Over the years, I have observed raptors, experiencing their beauty, tenderness, ferocity, and playfulness.

Red-shouldered Hawk, an all-year resident, has been a constant fixture in our backyard. Its radiant plumage catches one’s eye, especially when sunlit. It flies low between trees, making me wonder how it never runs into obstacles. One sits on our oak, unperturbed by Hummingbirds fluttering on our nectar feeder. Another perches for hours, worrying me if it was unwell. It was just resting and eventually flies away. Many a time, it stomps on grass, invariably finding and slurping up a long worm – or is that a snake?

A Red-shouldered Hawk catching its prey in the grass.

After some rain, we see one with drenched feathers. Another spreads its wings to dry. Sometimes it surprises us by perching on our electric pole or sipping from our bath. I was shocked when I saw one prey on a smaller bird – nature’s cycle of life. Juveniles appear in the summer, practice their calls, and playfully dunk in our bath.

Our first sight of a Barred Owl occurred at Freeman Park, when its hoot, joined by another, caught our attention. We initially saw just its back, then it turned around but appeared asleep. It opened its eyes when it heard us, turned away, and then looked back at us. We left after watching it for a while, but returned again to enjoy this rare sight. It rewarded us then with a long hoot, moving its head in sync with this call.

A Barred Owl in a tree at Freeman Park.

We spotted a Great Horned Owl on a rooftop one evening, another first ever sight. We heard it again another evening, searched, and spotted it atop a tree. Before we could focus our camera, it flew over our home and away, leaving us with just a distant picture of its flight.

A Great Horned Owl on a rooftop.

Mississippi Kite arrives in spring and stays through summer. One evening, we counted twenty five on a tree – did they all just end their migratory journey? Some mornings we see one perch there, fly in a circle to catch its prey, and return to munch it. A pair perched there in the evening look golden at sunset. Spotting their courtship was a highlight. They also frequent our backyard wire, sometimes holding a victim. Blue Jay calls to warn other birds about them and Hawks.

A Mississippi Kites with its victim.

All-year resident Black Vultures circle the sky and perch on rooftops. On a rare occasion, they share rooftops or sit there instead of perching. We saw many congregate on an electric tower, at sunset, near the Barton Creek Greenbelt. We also spotted several scavenging in Brushy Creek. It is fascinating to see them balance and fly in spite of strong winds.

Black Vultures together on a rooftop.

Other raptors we saw include Cooper’s Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk in Chaetura Canyon, and Crested Caracara. These fulfilling raptor experiences inspire us to also observe them during travels, such as spotting Bald Eagles interlocking talons in Alaska and Ospreys in Georgia. We missed Condors in Zion National Park as we were not birders then. We hope to sight more raptors such as the Common Black Hawk in Big Bend National Park.

A Crested Caracara soars overhead.


All photos courtesy of Jaya Ramanathan.