As birdwatchers know, being inside a car is one of the best ways to get up close to birds. And luckily I didn’t jump right out of mine after parking at the Louisville Nature Center last week. Leaning over to rummage for gloves, I caught a glimpse of quick movement – and there she was on the trail sign with a just-caught mouse.
Perhaps my car pulling up startled the mouse out of hiding; in any event it was quickly transferred from feet to beak and consumed as I watched. The raptor is of course one of the resident Red shouldered hawks that often hunt along this edge. It’s very good news for this species that it can adapt to such fragmented suburban woodlands as this one. Known as a hawk of extensive bottomland forests with open understory, the Red shouldered has more specific habitat needs than it’s ubiquitous larger cousin, the Red tailed hawk.
With the removal of forests in the east, populations of the Red shouldered are believed to have declined greatly in the last two centuries. Though birds in the west have adapted to more open suburban habitats, this has not been a trend in the east until recently. So I’m very thankful this little forest seems to meet their needs. It’s likely that removal of the dense understory of invasive Bush honeysuckle has made it more attractive as Red shouldered habitat.
I don’t know that this one is a female, but it’s a large for a Red shouldered so I’ll make that assumption. After quickly consuming the mouse, she flew up to the cross timbers of the trail archway, no doubt a favorite hunting lookout. Her eyes were her most astonishing feature – so relentlessly intent on the micro landscape below her.
Though likely not extremely hungry at that moment, she continued to scan the ground while fluffing her feathers.
For a moment it looked like she was going to tuck in for a quick nap, but as a walker approached the trailhead, she changed her mind and sailed down into the woods.
At that moment I snapped out of the state of alternate reality known as birdwatching, and realized I’d been uncomfortably sprawled across the passenger seat poking my little point and shoot out the far window. But so grateful for the encounter.