Toshimi Kristof took this photo near her home in Bear Valley Springs of a young red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicasensis). This is what is often referred to as a “passage hawk,” meaning a young raptor that is not yet mature. This is indicated by the bird’s tail, which is banded rather than being the bright cinnamon red color that gives this bird its common name.
Red-tailed hawks typically molt into their adult plumage, including the distinctive red tail, at the start of their second year. Although they are big enough that they don’t have to worry much about getting preyed on by other predators, there is a much more immediate concern that they face constantly: starvation.
It takes time to get good at hunting, and young fledgling hawks that have left the nest are in danger of starving before they become proficient enough at hunting to keep themselves fed. Their parents may continue to bring them food for several weeks after they leave the nest, but sooner or later the young Redtails are on their own.
Red-tailed hawks primarily prey upon mammals, but when faced with hunger they will broaden their prey range. Snakes are vulnerable to a winged hunter dropping in unexpectedly from above, and young Redtails have often been saved from hunger by the timely appearance of a large but unwary gopher snake, providing enough food to last the hawk for several days.
The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for red-tailed hawk is kwanazi, pronounced kwa-NAH-zee.
NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.