A raptor scares our ducks

February 9, 2022 • 9:04 am

About 9 or 10 mallards come to Botany Pond on warmer days; they like to swim in the small pools that form around the “bubbler” that aerates the pond. Today, while we were giving them some noms, the ducks suddenly went quiet and stopped eating. This is what we call a “duck alert”, and indicates that’s there’s a potential predator around. It’s often a raptor, but it can be a large dog being walked nearby. (Ducks hate big dogs!)

After the potential predator leaves, the ducks resume normal activities, but it takes them a while to get over it—sometimes a few hours.

This morning, the ducks froze, and only about ten seconds later did we see a large raptor flying by. (Those ducks have very keen vision.) It sat in the trees by the pond, and kept buzzing the ducks, flying low over them as they remained still. I don’t know if a predator like the one below can actually take a full-grown mallard, but the ducks seem to worry.  And they never fly; my theory (which is mine) is that it’s easier to be caught on the wing than on the water or ground.

I yelled at the raptor and it eventually flew away, but then returned and sat in a tree farther from the pond. The crows, meanwhile, were going nuts—they must really dislike raptors, and I think they mob them sometimes.

Anyway can anybody identify this raptor? I’m not good at bird IDs, but it’s clearly a hawk of some sort, and it was LARGE.

And here are the ducks on alert, standing or floating and facing the tree where the hawk was perched. You can see the two small patches of open water around the bubblers.

31 thoughts on “A raptor scares our ducks

  1. Hi Jerry. The hawk is a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk as per Paul’s comment. Readers can see more photos and ID hints at allaboutbirds.org

      1. From wiki:

        They will attack birds up to the size of a ruffed grouse or ring-necked pheasant. Steller’s jays and blue jays, both of which being potential prey species, sometimes habitually imitate the call of the red-shouldered hawk and are known to be difficult to distinguish on voice alone.

        Mallards are bigger than grouse or pheasants; but not hugely so,

            1. I hear that too – I think it is a jay. I bet it scares off … well… what preys on jays?… fisher?… dunno.

              But I thought it was always a hawk until I paid enough atte—

            2. I hear that too w/o seeing a hawk, and we have more jays (Steller’s) than hawks. I’ll have to start paying closer protection.

    1. Is there a particular detail in the photos here to distinguish it from a Cooper’s hawk?

      I assume the lack of a red tail means it is not a red-tailed hawk.

    2. (Adding to my invisible comment):

      The pictures of adult and juvenile Cooper’s hawks on All About Birds look like this one… puzzled…

        1. I think it’s really, really hard to tell the difference. I’m always impressed by birders who can, especially when one (a hawk, not a birder) is passing by quickly. I can’t even tell with photos side by side of the two species. Does anyone have a foolproof key? I know a lot of times with birding being good at identification is a lot of experience watching and comparing and getting a feel for how the different species move and behave and the possible color variations and so on. There was a hawk in our yard a few years ago that was the most beautiful bird I’ve ever seen. I was just in awe. The crows that I feed peanuts to mobbed the hawk, and I haven’t seen him (or her) since, but there are always falcons around. The crows don’t seem frightened of them, but the other birds are. I am glad the ducks are all right.

    3. Thanks Steve! We’ve had one around our neighborhood too, I was wondering what sort it was.

      I kinda figured it was a juvenile, because we know there are hawks around but we never see them; so I figured one sitting on low branches and houses out in the open is either (a) starving, (b) sick, or (c) too young to know how to stealth around. Ours looked quite fine and healthy, ergo, I figured (c).

      I haven’t seen ours mobbed by a murder, but last time he/she was sitting on top of the house there was a lone crow that kept dive bombing it until it flew across the street.

  2. Adult ducks are probably safe from a Coopers or Red Tail hawk..

    On the other hand recently observed a Snowy Owl at Bronte Habour in Oakville eating one of many different ducks that stop by during the winter.

    1. Yes, the differences are pretty subtle. I wonder what the clad diagram of these hawks looks like? (Again, on what other website might one have this conversation?!)

  3. I don’t know if the Hawk will take a goose but an eagle will. They like to look them over and single out a weak one.

  4. Cooper’s Hawks have proportionately longer tails than your friend here. They are Accipiters while Red-Tailed and Red-Shouldered Hawks are Buteos, so they aren’t all that closely related. Hawks can be super variable in appearance, and young ones lack some of the colorful adult markings.

    Guard your ducks! 🙂

  5. As usual, I’m late seeing this. I don’t have a whole lot to add, but I can’t resist commenting on a bird post.

    Yes, it’s an immature Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus). The stocky build rules out Copper’s Hawk, which has a more stretched-out long-tailed shape. Immature hawks are difficult to separate by plumage alone: a lot of them just look brown and streaky. Immature Red-shouldered and Broad-winged hawks are very similar, but the latter have migrated to Central America or beyond at this time of year. In addition, broad-wings don’t tend to be found in urban areas. Red-shouldereds show somewhat strange translucent crescents towards the end of their wings when they fly and soar. Something to look for.

    My feeling is that adult mallards are too big to be red-shouldered prey. My guess is that the duck food has attracted mice and that they’re what interests the hawk.

    Very nice photo!

    1. A further pointer to add is that immature cooper’s hawks have a yellow eye unlike the immature red-shouldered hawk. The bird in the photo does not have yellow eyes.

  6. Maybe the ducks are hoping not to be noticed if they don’t move? I can’t imagine an easier target than a sitting duck.

  7. Reader Paul Matthews (above) highlights the important characteristics to the identification as a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk. Tail and wing length, general body shape, and pattern and coloration of breast feathers are all important cues. When I first saw the photos, I thought the bird was a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk, but as note this species is uncommon in urban areas and the species should be south of here on its wintering grounds. There are identification photos of juvenile Red-shouldered Hawks on the website allaboutbirds.org that look identical to the bird in the photo. It’s great to see raptors using the environs on campus, although I wouldn’t want harm to come to the ducks. Plenty of squirrels about…

  8. Beautiful bird! I’m glad your precious ducks are ok. I would have trouble distinguishing this juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk from a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk except for its comparatively shorter looking tail. I appreciate the comments of those who are better than I at recognizing the differences.

  9. That is a gorgeously beautiful hawk!! I love those patterns on its breast. I do hope your ducks don’t become its prey.

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