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Rural Living for March 25, 2010


by Carol Dunn

HUERFANO- You can see hawks in Huerfano County year-round.  According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, rough-legged and ferruginous hawks spend the winter in southern Colorado and most migrate north to cooler climates for the summer.  Meanwhile, Swainson’s hawks migrate north from Argentina to Colorado for the summer.  Red-tailed, Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks remain in Colorado year-round, but they move from region to region depending on the weather.  Colorado also hosts peregrine and prairie falcons, kestrels, harriers and goshawks.

    Collectively referred to as raptors, these birds perch upright, soar with their wings spread wide and slightly above horizontal, and have a short, hooked beak.  As birds of prey, they are a federally protected group.  A permit is required to possess their feathers or eggs, and it is illegal to kill, harass, injure, or capture them.  

    Hawks are believed to have the best eyesight of any animal.  Their visual acuity is two to three times sharper than that of humans.  Their eyes are very sensitive to movement and they focus quickly.

    If you keep your bantam chickens and tiny dogs under cover, hawks can be a good friend to rural landowners.  By controlling rodent populations, they help minimize crop damage and curtail the spread of parasites and disease. While different species of hawks prefer different prey, the variety includes songbirds, gophers, prairie dogs, rabbits, mice, snakes, fish, game birds, squirrels, crayfish, frogs and insects.  They are also known to eat carrion, which can result in their becoming roadkill themselves.  If they do not meet with an untimely demise, hawks will live about 20 years.  They have few natural enemies, but weasels will raid their nests to eat eggs and young.

    If you consistently see hawks in an area, that means the food supply is good.  When there’s not much to eat, the hawks will move on.