An Accidental Birder

Idaho’s mountains host so many birds. Coming from western Washington, I had to buy a book, Birds of Idaho, to help me try to identify those that live here year-round and those that migrate through each spring and fall. I’m still learning. I never considered myself a birder – it seemed such a stodgy hobby – but living here where there are so many varieties, I find myself understanding the appeal of searching for and learning more about each of them. Seeing them up close, one can’t help but admire.

mountain blue bird
Mountain blue bird. Photo: Idaho Fish and Game.

Many of the birds I see are small and colorful, like the mountain blue bird (the Idaho state bird) and the gold finch. I love the dark metallic blue tree swallows that make their nest on my yard fence each year, entertaining me as they dive bomb me and my dogs and do aerial acrobatics in the evening.

Yet the birds I most enjoy watching are the raptors: eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, turkey vultures. Their enormous wingspans, their effortless flying capabilities…, so much to admire. To be able to soar so easily on the breeze! The view!

Red-tailed Hawk

In particular, I like red-tailed hawks. They circle in the sky above me all year, over my house and in the forest, floating on the currents as they scan the ground below for voles, mice, snakes and other food.

red-tailed hawk
Red-tailed hawk in flight. Photo by skeeze on Pixabay.

Red-tailed hawks, when not flying, enjoy perching high on trees, telephone poles, barn roofs and whatever else is handy. This makes them easy to spot.

Often, when I walk my dogs on a nearby country road, one or more red-tailed hawk perched atop a telephone pole or old dead tree will watch us closely. As we get near, it’ll swoop off its perch, losing a big of altitude before flapping its huge wings to gain lift, gliding and alighting atop another telephone pole down the road. The scene replays as we near its newest perch.

I’m not sure if they’re curious about me and my dogs and enjoy watching us from a safe, high distance, or whether they think our movements will scare up small creatures in the pastures, making their next meal a bit easier. Whatever the attraction, I enjoy their company. So magnificent.

Like owls, I’ve noticed red-tailed hawks are quiet fliers. Raven wings are much noisier, a whoosh-whoosh sound of air being displaced by their wings when they fly overhead. I rarely hear a red-tailed hawk flying. They’re stealthy, part of their appeal.

Years ago, walking in the forest with my dogs, suddenly there was a noisy conflict in a tall tree alongside our path. Hearing loud and insistent cawing, I looked up just in time to see two angry ravens pursuing a red-tailed hawk with a mouse in its talons. All three birds flew right over my head, mere feet above me in a tight raucous cluster, their wings pumping against the air to gain speed and making lots of sound as they rushed down slope through the trees. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! I bet they were as surprised to see me as I was seeing them, but their focus was on who was going to enjoy a fresh meal. Even my dogs were awestruck, watching absolutely still. I admit; I was rooting for the hawk.

Maybe birding requires the patience acquired with age. All I know is that as I turn my focus toward the natural world nearby, birds are major players demanding my attention.

Feature photo of red-tailed hawk courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife.

8 thoughts on “An Accidental Birder”

  1. I had much the same experience. Never really gave birds a thought before we moved to this home in the country. Now… their visits have me marking my book and running for the binoculars. Such graceful, beautiful creatures. We’re lucky to live by the river with Bald Eagles soaring overhead every day. Glorious!

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  2. There was a murder of crows in the trees near the start of my Faery Falls runs this summer and one would follow us through the woods cawing above as if to warn all the animals of the forest of an intruder. The crow followed us for about 1/4 mile and did it for a couple weeks in a row until they all moved on.
    A couple weeks ago, I heard a widowmaker crashing through the trees where we had just run. I turned just in time to see a red tailed hawk take off in slow motion. I don’t know if he was trying to land and the branch broke or if it cracked as he was pushing to take off.
    Both were interesting experiences

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    1. Not many crows here, but while living in Seattle I got to observe thousands of crows roosting in a small group of trees. Having seen Hitchcock’s The Birds as a kid, it’s a little creepy to hear and see! Here in Idaho, my dogs and I have been shadowed by ravens many times when we’re in the forest. Sometimes they just tag along, moving from tree to tree along with us, and I wonder if the behavior is similar to how ravens and wolves track each other, ravens hoping to dine on the wolves’ meal and so often showing the wolves where to find those meals by leading them there. Other times, like the incident I described in this post, they’re clearly egging my Aussie on, having some fun teasing him. Crows and ravens amazing creatures, very smart, fun to observe.

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      1. Ha ha, there was a scrub jay that was teasing Roxie at our old house. It would antagonize her until she chased it then it would fly tree to tree getting her to follow. When she stopped chasing the bird started landing lower and lower in the tree. Then it started landing on the ground, walking across the patio and finally coming right up to the open screen door. The behavior went on for weeks and, unfortunately, the bird was adapting faster than the dog.

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  3. Redtail hawks — if you go out at about the same time each day and follow similar trails each times — will begin to rely on your dogs to help them hunt. I learned this in California when I had only an hour or two to hike after school in winter and arrived at my trail head between 1:15 and 1:30. Before long, a pair of redtails had begun to wait (perched on a rock, watching the road!) for “me.” This led to some amazing encounters with them. They were waiting fo the moment I let the dogs off leash and they went running through the bushes, chasing out the rabbits.

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    1. No doubt! And what fun to observe, eh? I’ve always sensed the the red-tailed hawks I see regularly on our valley walks shadow us because they are hoping my dogs will scare up a meal for them. Symbiosis at its best.

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