Red-tailed hawks find Fallbrook perfect

There is no denying that red-tailed hawks are birds of prey, but many Fallbrook residents find it fascinating to watch them turn sweeping circles in the air on their broad, rounded wings. And these hawks appear to think the Fallbrook countryside is the perfect area to raise their chicks.

Photographer/artist Robert Sommers has been taking pictures of one particular red-tailed hawk’s nest for five or six years, he said.

“Nestled high in a Fallbrook sycamore, the hawk mothers come back and lay two to three chicks every year, something that has probably occurred annually since time immemorial,” said Sommers, who situates himself far away from the nest, using a powerful telephoto lens.

“I take hundreds of shots every season and am privileged to see the small hawks grow up and phase through various color shifts until they eventually fly off on their own,” he said.

The reason the birds favor the area is because they are fond of open areas and farm land, in addition to urban settings.

“In our area, that can be along the freeway or any of our other roadways, plus open fields,” explained Bill Moramarco, a local birder. “I notice them perched on light poles along Interstate 15 quite often.”

Perched high in a tree or telephone pole, the keen-eyed hawk observes and waits patiently for its food.

“From my experience, their most popular targets are rabbits and squirrels in our region; I have seen a few flying with snakes, also,” said Moramarco. Known colloquially in the United States as the “chickenhawk,” experts have said it rarely preys on standard-sized chickens.

When the hawks come to rest, they like to be a minimum of 10 to 15 feet off the ground. In building nests, they value a solid foundation.

“Their nest is usually in the crotch of a large tree with a commanding view,” said Moramarco. “I have seen these nests in conifers, eucalyptus, and sycamore trees. Some use the same nest every year, renewing the evergreen sprigs and leaves in the inner lining.”

Moramarco concurs with Sommers, that female red-tailed hawks will lay two or three eggs once a year.

“Both parents take turns incubating them from 30 to 35 days,” said Moramarco. “When the young hatch, they are immobile, downy, and their eyes are open.”

Sommers said he is eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new chicks this year in the nest he watches.

“The mother is currently at the end of her 28- to 32-day cycle as we speak and any day now I expect to see this year’s brood; needless to say, this is one of my very favorite times of year,” said Sommers.

Moramarco said once the chicks arrive, the adult hawks “feed them from 45 to 46 days, when they fledge (leave the nest).” He said the youngsters are the same size as their parents at that time.

According to National Geographic, the average life span of a red-tailed hawk in the wild can be 21 years.

The color of this variety of hawk is intriguing, as there are 14 recognized subspecies.

“I am amazed at the number of color variations of these birds,” said Sommers.

Moramarco said a red-tailed hawk’s age is revealed in its tail feathers.

“You can tell the age of a red-tailed hawk by the color of its tail feathers; the adults have the all red colored tail,” he said. “When a young bird (juvenile) fledges from its nest, its tail has alternating light and dark brown, thin bands across its tail with a slightly wider terminal band. It takes a full year to grow the red tail feathers.”

When mature hawks embark upon mating, it can become an intricate movement of art in the air.

“One of the courting behaviors that the red-tailed hawk has that I find interesting is an aerial display,” said Moramarco. “The pair spiral and recross, with the male circling behind and above the female. He will stoop (dive) at her, with their feet touching or interlocking as she rolls over. I have observed this behavior myself only twice. Most of the time I have only witnessed the male circling the female with his legs extended (landing gear down).”

Sommers has viewed these behaviors as well.

“I feel privileged to have seen some intimate behavior patterns that a casual viewer might miss,” he said.

Red-tailed hawks are the most common hawk in North America and are a top choice for falconry in the United States (within certain guidelines). Females can weigh between 32 and 71 oz., averaging 2.7 pounds. Their wingspan can range from 41 to 56 inches; and tail between 7.5 and 9.8 inches. The males are typically 25 percent smaller than the females.

6 Responses to "Red-tailed hawks find Fallbrook perfect"

  1. Wim   April 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    I observed a pair today circling high in the air and then land in a tree situated on the golf course below our slope. It is situated on El Niguel Golf and country club in Laguna Niguel. They seem to have settled there, maybe to nest?

  2. hawks   April 19, 2013 at 10:56 am

    My wife and I were out in our yard and were admiring a trio of hawks that were doing their "training exercises". When we first saw them, they were just above our place. We think it was mom, dad, and baby hawk (smallest of the three). They flew so high, we could barely seem them, then they did the "dive", like when they dive for their prey. It was so cool to watch them training the little one. The speed they were going was so fast, they tucked their wings, and took off (all three did this)! They repeated the exercise one more time. It was quite a sight!

  3. Ed   April 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Great article
    Idea- maybe Moramarco can do a featured bird every month and become a regular

  4. Cranky   April 22, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    " lay two to three chicks every year, something that has probably occurred annually since time immemorial," said Sommers"

    Two or three chicks in a year is pretty good, but I could have sworn hawks lay eggs.

  5. Delyse Sharpe   April 23, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    I had 3 Hawks killed on my Electric Pole since December…. Called SDGE and seemingly they were aware that it is illegal to kill them .. they are a protected species. SDGE are supposed to install raptor protectors on their poles. Will get fined if don’t do so when receive calls such as mine. If don’t pay the fine, there are penalties. it seems when raptors stretch their wings they touch both terminals (?) and get electrocuted.

    They first of all sent one man to inspect .. he looked and confirmed. He didn’t think they were electrocuted!! I showed him the latest dead one that was killed that morning. I saw it fall. Next came 3 trucks with total of 6 workers who stood and contemplated what to do… Finally decided to climb and replace all the equipment. Supposed to have been done after the fires. Their neglect of equipment in Rainbow started the fire that destroyed my home .. SDGE are not my favourite people. If this pole has killed 3 hawks, how many more are being destroyed?

  6. MyView   April 25, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Great article! Being able to be witness these beautiful birds right in our own backyards, or at least in our local area, is one of the great things about living in a rural area. These natural wonders that are free for us to observe is one of the many reasons that many people choose Fallbrook and other similar rural towns to live in. Another reminder for us to be careful of what we do with the natural, open spaces that are still remaining in and around our homes and town.

    To The Village News:
    Comment #3’s suggestion is a good idea. Or what about weekly articles about all of the different wildlife that live in our area? It would educate all of us residents about the animals, birds, reptiles, etc. Also, articles about our local nature trails, the Santa Margarita River, local geology and other Fallbrook natural wonders. It might make people better appreciate all the wonderful, natural things that we have right in our own backyard.


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