A few rough-legged hawks have been seen in the area, which doesn't surprise me. These large, solitary Buteos (a robust family of hawks with long, broad, rounded wings), are starting to migrate from their far north, sub-Arctic homes, southward into the northern United States. Rough-legged hawks are about the size of their local Red-tailed counterparts, but that's where the similarities end. The plumage of the adult Red-tailed hawk is pretty much the same from one bird to another. The plumage on a Rough-legged may be anything from all black or brown, to all white, with many variations. Adult Red-tailed hawks have red tail feathers, and Rough-legged hawks' tails are whitish with large, dark bars at the tips. The Rough-legged has much smaller feet and beak than the Red-tail, adapted exclusively for catching lemmings and field voles. The two birds' hunting techniques and the habitat they prefer are similar, but the Rough-legged hawk prefers to hunt by hovering over large, open grassy areas, while the Red-tails prefer broken wooded areas, with edges of grass or pastures. They perch high in a tree and watch for prey below.
Seeing a Rough-legged hawk is a sign of winter, and they will stay until spring if the vole hunting is good. As recently as last week there were a few fleeting glimpses of summer to report, such as the four happy, singing Bluebirds that stopped for a while in the yard one morning. It's been a fairly mild November and Bluebirds are pretty hardy little thrushes, so it didn't surprise me to see them so late, but they'll likely be moving along now.
Just after daylight, I like to look out the window and see who comes early for breakfast at the bird feeders. This morning I was a little startled to see 23 handsome turkeys pecking up seed under the feeders. A turkey's features have a special, iridescent shine. They are able to catch the sun and reflect a colorful glow of chocolate brown, beige, green, orange and copper. The congregation of shiny turkeys in the sunlight made for an impressive sight.
I watched the flock of turkeys for quite a while, standing very still so they wouldn't notice me. After a while, away they went, single file, up through the woods.
Speaking of turkeys, I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving, and we all found new reasons to be thankful. I'm not sure what's better, the thanksgiving dinner, or my mother's leftover pie the next day. (I think she knows the answer to that!)
As the weather turns colder it makes life a little harder for the wild things. The turkeys will spend the long winter months together, roaming the hills and valleys in search of food. Like geese in their flocks, the turkeys find safety in numbers.
With winter closing in, and the sun setting so early, many of us feel the urge to slow down--wild things and people alike. Winter is Nature's time for rest and reflection.
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