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.
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!
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 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.