Opportunistic Hawks

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, January 13, 2014 

Of course, vultures and Bald Eagles scavenge dead stuff, but did you know that all raptors do this from time to time. I have seen almost every raptor do this, or steal dead prey from another raptor, it's part of survival! I have seen Golden Eagles feeding on deer carcasses, buteos feeding on roadkill, Ospreys eating clams (which technically may have been alive), and even falcons taking advantage of a food source that wasn't alive. Raptors even feed on food that you normally wouldn't associate them with, especially if they are hungry! I caught an adult Red-tail and a juvenile Golden Eagle on a salmon carcass we had laid out as bait for Bald Eagles during a telemetry project along the Skagit River in northwest Washington. My friend, Christian Nunes has images of Red-tails (including a Harlan's) eating a carcass he captured on a remote camera. And the Red-shouldered Hawk feeding on a deer carcass was sighted and photographed by Vic Berardi. All birds are opportunistic, like most animals on earth. Here are some other pics -- a Bald Eagle and Harriers eating dead fish, a Harrier eating a duck it scavenged, A Harlan's Red-tail eating a coot (Photo by Mia McPherson) and a Turkey Vulture eating a grebe washed up on a beach in CA (gross).
  Red-shouldered Hawk
Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk
 Bald Eagle
 Northern Harrier
 Northern Harrier
 Northern Harrier
 Turkey Vulture
Anonymous Hatem Gomaa said...

And this scavenging trait is probably more 'unfairly' associated with bald eagles than most of the other raptors that was the reason for Benjamin Franklin not wanting that magnificent bird to be the national symbol of the United States and favored the turkey for that role. Good thing he was overruled by the other founding fathers.

January 14, 2014 at 3:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can share a link to a really wonderful blog by Ohio naturalist, Jim McCormac. He recently has posted two incidents of a golden eagle at a deer carcass where an automatic camera has been set up. Golden eagles are not regular visitors to Ohio. But, a few occasionally wander to this area.

A bit off the subject: Jim also has a great article about a snowy owl that was hit by a truck. The owl lodged in the grill of the vehicle and was later released.

Ken Andrews
Maple Heights, Ohio

January 14, 2014 at 7:21 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Hatem & Ken -- thanks for the info.

January 14, 2014 at 7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pretty neat to see a harrier eating fish.

January 14, 2014 at 12:59 PM  
Anonymous J. Chang said...

Very nice pictures on top of it! The eagle is my favorite because the lighting is pretty.

January 14, 2014 at 3:39 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Thank you, I like the lighting on that one too.

January 14, 2014 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Mia McPherson said...

I think the grossest one I saw was a Turkey Vulture eating a road-killed Armadillo.

January 14, 2014 at 5:56 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Nice Mia!

I have pics of a few Turkey Vultures feeding on a car-hit dog....has a dog tag and everything, was gross and sad.

January 14, 2014 at 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Hatem Gomaa said...

What I'd be really excited to see and is something I have not seen yet after all these years is raptor on raptor. I've seen a slew of pictures and videos but never actually saw it in person. Anyone? I would also enjoy seeing the action that would lead up to it. Some great pics online of one of the most improbable raptor on raptor that took place a few years back (IIRC) of a bald eagle just imposing its will and strength in the most aggressive manner on a great horned owl at a golf course. This was witnessed by a few golfers and a pro photographer who just happened to be in the right place at the right time and scored those great pics. It'll easily pop up on Google. Are you familiar with that one, Jerry? And have you ever witnessed any raptor on raptor that resulted in one overcoming the other for a meal?

January 14, 2014 at 7:15 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

I have seen that....crazy! There was a clip of a Bald Eagle killing a RT in New Jersey last year on its nest. The eagle was siittin on young chicks and the RT came in to try and snatch one and lost that battle quickly.

I saw a Golden eagle kill a Red-tail in Utah, A Golden take down a Grerat Blue Heron in NJ, a Peregrine kill a Kestrel and behead it in flight, a Goshawk kill a Cooper's, a Prairie Falcon kill a Barn Owl and a Burrowing Owl, a Rough-legged slamming another Rough-legged to the ground breaking its leg, a Bald Eagle put a talon into the eye of another and killing it, and a few more raptor on raptor violent incidences. It's pretty disturbing.

January 14, 2014 at 7:55 PM  
Anonymous Hatem Gomaa said...

L-O-L-O-L!!! I guess you've seen one or two! :) It really is awful, there's no doubt. As much as we admire these magnificent birds, their remorseless hunting habits can be quite disturbing to witness, to say the least. I think some of us have become desensitized to the "normal" prey item that gets taken and eaten, although some can be pretty tough to see especially when it's the cute, loveable and defenseless creature. But it's the ones that put up a valiant fight to the death that seem to turn one's insides upside down because of the longer agonizing death. At least that's the way it affect me.

I have seen that clip of the RT just plowing into the bald eagle in the nest you mentioned. It's actually on YT. The first time I saw that I thought to myself what on earth was this RT thinking? There's also one of a bald eagle attacking a great horned owl in a nest and the owl fleeing which BTW, I had been told for many years by a few "experts" that the GHO is the one bird that bald eagles will not chase out of its nests should one be occupied. That clip proved otherwise.

January 14, 2014 at 8:52 PM  
Blogger Bryce said...

Very cool! I've seen images of a Great Horned Owl on a deer carcass that my friend William shared with me. The GHOW has always been considered rather snooty when it comes to eating carrion, but I think it is simply a matter of people not seeing it when it happens, which is likely quite regularly. I love the RSHA on the carcass. This is a great post!

January 15, 2014 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Thanks Bryce!

January 15, 2014 at 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watch raptor nests in the spring/summer in some local parks in NE Ohio. I once had a Cooper's hawk nest with four fledglings a stone's throw across a park road from a broad-winged hawk nest with one youngster. I witnessed the biggest Coop youngster (a really big scary female) go after the broad-winged hawk fledgling. The broad-winged hawk escaped by ducking into a small thick hemlock near its nest. The Coops fledged about a week before the broad-wing. So, they were more agile. I always wondered if the Coops watched me watch the broad-winged hawk nest. I hope I didn't put the young broad-winged hawk in danger.

I am almost certain that some birds watch birders/photographers. I was once watching a screech owl nest cavity. I am pretty sure some blue jays and a robin found it because I was watching it. They flew to the sycamore, took a peek at the owls and made a lot of noise. The owls just ducked inside.

Ken Andrews
Maple Heights, Ohio

January 15, 2014 at 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Ron Dudley said...

Interesting post and nice photo documentation of the behaviors you describe, Jerry. I've seen and photographed harriers feeding on dead fish multiple times. I also think it's worth noting that some non-raptor species that aren't noted for scavenging will eat "dead stuff" occasionally. I once photographed a Song Sparrow feeding on dead carp bits and coots eating a dead chicken. Both were in winter when times were tough.

January 15, 2014 at 6:13 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Ron, that reminds me....I have video of Coots feeding on the carp bits. I'll post it on my VIDEOS page, thanks!

January 15, 2014 at 6:18 PM  
Anonymous Hatem Gomaa said...

Very cool stuff, Ken. That must be pretty cool to see two species of hawks nesting so close to each another. Makes you wonder how often that happens and if there's a certain reason behind that, some sort of unwritten rule or pact between the two adult pairs for protection. Or it could just very well be coincidence.

January 15, 2014 at 6:24 PM  
Anonymous Hatem Gomaa said...

I have a friend who has photographed a snowy own killing and eating a great blue heron. Not only is it fascinating that a large and actually a very tough bird with a deadly weapon in that beak can be taken by an owl but that a raptor mostly associated with cold climates would find itself with the opportunity to hunt a GBH. Here in the metro Boston area we see great blue herons quite frequently during the coldest months of the winter, which is rather sad actually. So certainly an opportunistic hunting moment for that snowy owl.

January 15, 2014 at 6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have heard that buteos and accipiters will share areas. (Maybe others know more about this.) I do remember seeing the adult broad-winged hawks fly through the woods very close to the Cooper's hawk nest. I think they were making a straight path to a golf course nearby to hunt. The Coops had to see them. That was a couple of years ago. The Coops have attempted to nest a couple of times in that same nest. I can't find the broad-winged hawks again. But, a naturalist spotted an immature broad-winged hawk last summer in that area a bit farther away. They build a new nest every year. So, maybe they moved farther away from the Coops.

January 16, 2014 at 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I have heard that buteos and accipiters will share..." etc.

Sorry. Thought I signed that entry.

Ken Andrews
Maple Heights, Ohio

January 17, 2014 at 7:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got a pair of Cooper's hawks that have nested in my backyard for several years. The hen showed up as an injured immature bird in the fall of 2010. After being rehabbed she was brought back out to my house and released. I've witnessed her feed on the remnants of butchered deer I've put out in my field during winter. I've also seen Red-tails and a Great Horned Owl early in the morning feeding on deer remnants.

Ken I have a pair of Cooper's hawks nest in my backyard since 2012. The neighbors had a pair of Red-tails nesting in their yard about 60 yards from the Coops nest for 15 or so years until last year when the tree blew down. They didn't seem to have any issues with each other.

Hatem, I've witnessed "my" hen Coop kill a male kestrel in flight, and then eat it. I have found kestrel feathers around the nest too on several occasions, along with a bunch of Screech owl feathers.

Zach in OH

January 31, 2014 at 10:42 PM  

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