Friday, August 25, 2006

A vole story

[Sorry I couldn't upload any photos yesterday or today -- try Google images for meadow vole pix]

From a regular website correspondent, Bill Trankle, of Indianapolis:


I've long heard our esteemed friend Mr. Blakeman discuss how red tails subsist mostly on voles in the wild, and up until last night I have always pictured them somewhat like a prairie dog or some such mammal. However, last night in my yard I found a tiny little rodent (a mouse I thought at first, but it's tail was just a stub) wandering around, clearly not well. Its eyes were slitted/closed and it was nosing through the ground cover around one of my bird baths. I was actually able to touch it and could have picked it up if I had so desired, but I'm not sure exactly what was wrong with it. My immediate thought was, "You'd better take cover, buddy, or you'll end up hawk food."

Not 30 min later, while bleaching my upstairs deck that overlooks the feeders in my yard, one of my neighborhood Cooper's hawks landed in the yard--unbelievable considering I was above him and so close (about 40' away). He hopped about a bit, and I could see he was repeatedly pouncing on something that turned out to be the sick rodent. Not only did the Cooper's stand there a few minutes while I eyed him out of the corner of my vision, but he then proceeded to fly to a nearby branch and, to my utter amazement, begin feeding.

This Cooper's has been haunting my feeders for the past 5 or 6 years at least, and I make no efforts to shoo him--he's part of the cycle, and he's learned that my feeders are an easy place to get a plump dove (he's even learned to come soaring in from the east, under the tree canopy, and thus spooking the doves into panic flight towards my house--he catches tons of them after they have rebounded dead or alive off of my picture window). However, the only times I've ever seen him feed previously was when he had to decrease the size of his prey in order to be able to carry it off, and once he's done that he never sticks around. This time he ate the entire animal, even allowing me to go down the ladder and race in and grab my binoculars. I got to watch the entire feeding, and while you lucky NY'ers have PM in Central Park spoiling you by showing his every move, this was exceedingly rare for me!

I looked the rodent up and confirmed it was in fact a vole. So my question (at long last!) to John is, how many of those little things does an adult red tail (much larger than a Cooper's) have to eat to stay alive? This Cooper's spent 20 minutes picking apart his kill, but most of it was fur and bones! (Owls who just swallow them whole and cast up the remains are sooo much more efficient!) I know now that voles breed like machines, but I would think the energy it takes to catch one wouldn't equal that recovered by eating the prey! Obviously I'm wrong.

Anyway, it was quite the event, made much more enjoyable by the fact that the hawk was dining on a rodent (an ailing one at that) and not a bird!

Hope your camp trip was great.

Bill Trankle

Urban Hawks vs. Rural Hawks

Re: Bakeman Astounded:

I work on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, NY--a somewhat rural area--, and we have seen at least one red-tailed hawk perched at various sites on campus watching humans at close range. A co-worker recently remarked that he was startled to look up a few feet into a tree, and be practically face to face with a red-tail as he (the co-worker) left his car. Perhaps NY red-tails are less shy than Blakeman's.

Michele Brown