Text and Photography by Skeeter Lasuzzo
Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawk in North America and are known for their brick-colored tails. While most of us are familiar with a typical Red-tailed Hawk seen soaring over pastures or sitting on telephone poles on the edge of fields, we might not know that there are a number of different colors or subspecies of Red-tails. Some don't even have a red tail. The image I have included today is a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk, sometimes called a Harlan's Hawk. The Harlan's Hawk breeds in Alaska and North-West Canada then migrates south to primarily Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas where they spend the winter. This hawk was photographed at Hagerman Wildlife Refuge. The Harlan's is considered uncommon at Hagerman and this is the first one we have seen there. Notice the light colored eyes.
Another subspecies of the Red-tailed, that can sometimes be seen in North Texas, is the Krider's Hawk. It is a light colored version with a white colored head and tail. The tail may even have a pinkish tint.
This is also the season to observe the courting ritual of not only the Harlan's but all Red-tailed Hawks. The male and female hawk will soar at high altitude, circling one another. The male will alternate steep dives with steep upward climbs. He will then approach the female from above. He will briefly touch the female with his legs and on some occasions they will lock talons and spiral toward the ground, eventually pulling apart.
So keep your eyes to the sky, not only for the dark morph Red-tailed Hawk (the Harlan's Hawk), but for a chance to witness an unusual courting ritual.
Want to know more about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. The official website for the Refuge is http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/hagerman/index.html and information about activities and events of the Friends of Hagerman can be found at http://www.friendsofhagerman.com