By ROB W. ANDERSON
Those enjoying free time over the holidays may have noticed quite a few hawks perched on trees or fence posts.
But according to officials, large numbers of hawks sighted at this time of year are nothing unusual.
The buteo jamaicensis, or red-tailed hawk, is Oklahoma’s most common bird of prey, and the headcount of this migratory bird species can climb to approximately 50,000 during the winter, according to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife.
Red-tailed hawks are legally protected in the U.S., Canada and Mexico by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the only way to determine local numbers are by visually observing the bird in trees or other areas, said Cherokee County Game Warden Tony Clark.
“It’s not a hunted species. So, the only way to tell numbers is by sightings, and we see a lot of them,” he said. “Red hawks can been seen anywhere any time of the year. The population is good enough that they’re a common site. The old farmer’s tale says they’ll sit on a fence post right before a storm, and sure enough you can be driving on the highway and see one sitting on a fence post just about anywhere in the county.”
According to online descriptions, the red-tailed hawk can occupy a wide range of habitat and altitude environments, including deserts, grasslands, coniferous and deciduous forests, tropical rainforests, agricultural fields and urban areas.
It is also the common choice for falconry, as red-tailed hawks are easily trained and very capable hunters. They eat small animals and sometimes carnivorous reptiles, said Clark.
“They prey on small mammals like rats, baby rabbits and occasionally a snake,” he said.
The winged carnivorous creature is an opportunistic feeder, dining mainly on rodents, and their diet can also include house mice, gophers, voles, chipmunks, ground and tree squirrels, bats, shrews, waterfowl, quail, fish, crustaceans, insects and earthworms, to name a few.
Because it is a protected bird, people who may happen upon an injured or dead red-tailed hawk are expected to not approach the bird and continue on their travels, said Clark.
“You occasionally see a dead one on the side of the road, but once again, that would be against the law to pick up a dead hawk,” he said. “We encourage people who find a dead or injured raptor to please leave them alone. A lot of times, it’s just best to let nature take its course. Birds are kind of different than mammals in that sense. Say a bird breaks its feathers in the wings and they’re unrepairable. They would have to go on display at a zoo or park that has a federal permit to possess the bird or it has to be put down and then disposed of. If you find an eagle, you need to call a local game warden.”
By law, people cannot possess any migratory bird unless it’s a hunted species, said Clark.
“All hawks, owls and eagles are protected by Oklahoma and federal law,” he said.
There are eight different hawk species that live in Oklahoma year-round, while only three call Oklahoma home during the winter, according the ODW.
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