A Red-shouldered Hawk in My Garden 2015

Cape May, NJ – Hawks normally are considered predators who catch and consume mice, squirrels, rabbits, and smaller birds. But that’s not all they eat.  In recent years, we’ve watched Red-shouldered Hawks eating earthworms on our lawn and in our gardens. That’s right, like American Robins, these beautiful predators sometimes eat worms!

Our first adult Red-shouldered Hawk of the season arrived in late November, within an hour of my tilling the vegetable garden.

The hawk began its survey from a nearby tree with an outstanding view of the freshly tilled vegetable garden. After scanning the area, the hawk flew to the roto-tiller and perched on the handles before finally flying to the ground.

It stayed for nearly 45 minutes, walking around, presumably searching for worms or insects that had been tilled to the surface by the November garden prep work. While on the ground, it looked around, walked a few feet, and then continued to look around.

Several times it nosed the tilled ground and the grass, looking like it had captured something. We saw it swallowing. Worms? Insects?

We’ve been lucky enough to have these wonderful birds visit our yard and garden on a regular basis for about a decade. Each year, the hawks seem to have no problem perching on our red roto-tiller, the solar panels, or our garden trellis.

This year’s bird, just like most of the birds we have seen in previous years, was an adult. Could it have been the hawk from last year or three years ago? It certainly acted like it knew its way around.

Red-shouldered Hawks are supposed to be endangered as nesting birds in New Jersey, but the birds we see are quite tame and not skittish. I sometimes have walked within 20 to 30 feet of them and they don’t fly away.

Then again, you never know when the slightest movement or sound will prompt the bird to take off without warning.

If this year is like the last few, we can be confident of seeing this Red-shoulder back in our garden sometime soon, probably throughout the winter.

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About Paul Kerlinger

Paul Kerlinger, Ph.D. is a scientist, author and nationally known expert on bird migration. He's done extensive studies on hawks, Snowy Owls and neotropical song birds. Kerlinger is the former director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, His books include How Birds Migrate and Flight Strategies of Migrating Hawks. He's an ardent fly fisherman and organic vegetable gardener.