Woods has its own resident Red-tailed
Hawk. See if you can get a peak at her in the wooden flight cage (called
a mews) near the Arena. She doesn't have a name... we don't like to think of wild
animals as pets and want to remember to handle her with care. We use our hawk
in educational programs, providing a living example of a predator and showing
the unique adaptations that birds of prey have for survival.
hawk was found in the summer of 1988 near the Heller Nature Center in Highland
Park. We could tell from her light eye color and immature, striped tail feathers
that she was only about 4 months old. We suspected she was female because of her
larger size, and when she began laying eggs we knew it was true, She had probably
been hit by a car, injuring her right wing. As a result, she is unable to gain
altitude to soar and hunt, though she can fly short distances. Because she is
unable to hunt for herself, we feed her quail, rats and mice.
spring, the hawk freshens the lining of a large nest of sticks and evergreen branches
that we provide for her and becomes very territorial of her mews and food. In
the wild, her nest would probably be in the highest tree near the edge of the
woods, built in the crotch of a branch at the trunk, 25-70 feet up the tree. The
male hawk builds the nest. The female jumps on it to be sure it is strong enough
and lines it each year with fresh bark, corn husks or other soft materials.
you will see the beautiful reddish brown feathers in her tail when you come to
(Ryerson Woods has both federal and state permits to house
A few more facts about Red-tailed Hawks:
Hawks are the largest and most powerful of the
eastern hawks. Adult females reach between 3 and 4 pounds
with wingspans of 46-58 inches; males only 2 to 3 pounds.
As with most raptors, the females are about 1/3 larger than
the males. They prefer to live in an area of mixed forest
and open land where they can hunt a wide variety of prey including
mice, rats, moles, squirrels, prairie dogs, rabbits, bats,
snakes, turtles, crawfish and even spiders and crickets.
the most aerial of all raptors, the hawks can fly up to 40 mph, dive at 120 mph
and ride the air currents, whirling, tilting, soaring and flying gracefully in
the sky. Hovering above, with the keenest eyesight of any living animal (they
see 8 times more clearly humans, for greater distances and in color), red-tails
can spot dinner a football field's length away.
(Sue Auerbach, photographer)