Every winter, we take a driving tour of back roads and Open Space in Boulder County. We picked up a map when we first took the tour with the Boulder County Open Space Naturalists. For several years, we have taken friends on the tour ourselves, since our friend Beverly Gholson is an Open Space Naturalist. On this trip we spotted 36 raptors: 20 Red-tailed Hawks, 9 Bald Eagles, 5 Kestrals and 3 Golden Eagles. We have seen as many as 45 in 3 hours.
Here, in a video from Spain, you can see that eagles prey on quite large animals:
Kestral perched on a fence post
Hawks and Eagles often land on power poles. More than a few are electrocuted each year, to the point that the power company is putting structures in place to keep birds away from dangerous perches. This is a Red-tailed Hawk, displaying the typical white front with a dark belly band.Red-tailed Hawk on Phone Pole
Here we see the same bird from behind, showing his dark wings and red tail. In most Hawks, the females are larger than the males. Not every dark shape we saw in a tree was a bird.
Notice how big the Raven is in relation to the Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks are good Prairie Dog hunters. Bald Eagles are better at fishing, but will steal prairie dogs from Goldens and Hawks. On one of our previous tours, we saw a Bald Eagle, a Golden Eagle and a Red-tailed Hawk in the same tree. The Bald Eagle was eating the Prairie Dog, which he had probably taken from the Golden, who might well have taken it from the Red-tailed Hawk.
Immature Golden Eagle flies by Bald Eagle on a limb. Note the white windows on the Golden, indicating an immature
This Red-tail is hunting on the ground. Most of the open space has Prairie Dog colonies, a keystone species critical to the survival of hawks and eagles.
We saw this bird slouched over, and at first thought it was a Red-tail, because they sit with bad posture. By this point, we were on Hwy. 36 headed back into Boulder, and a snowstorm is blowing in. Either this guy had something to eat in his talons, or he is just leaning into the wind. In the background, you can see radio towers, and the cityscape in the distance. This shows how well the Bald Eagles have come back. Ever since we arrived out here a decade ago, we could see Bald Eagles in winter, but they were migratory, coming down from Alaska. They only reestablished nests in Boulder County about five years ago. Each spring, every Golden and Bald Eagle nest is monitored by Volunteers to protect them and keep people away so they can fledge young. Once, from the deck of our cabin, we saw two adult Goldens soaring over the meadow with two immature young, teaching them to hunt.
We stumbled upon a Bald Eagle Nest while doing a raptor tour. What an incredible find!
Here you can see the blue markings
Sitting on the ice with a gull flying by.
It takes five years for an immature Bald Eagle to get the white head and tail feathers that make them so distinctive. Here you can also see his beak turning yellow.
Sitting on one of our Bluebird houses near the cabin.
You can see the large head and beak along with the white feathers on his wings and back that tell us this is an immature Bald Eagle. Goldens have much smaller heads, and the immature Golden has white window panes on the underside of the wings.
Light Morph version
Profile Shot. These guys sit close to the trunk, where hawks will be out on the limbs. Owls are resting during the day, and hawks are hunting.
Their wings are white when seen from below, with tips that look like they have been dipped in ink.
As they fly away, you can see a white butt patch on the top side of the bird, just in front of the tail.
We did a raptor driving tour. We stopped at a spot where we had seen an owl four years ago. Sure enough, we found one again.
One of the distinctive features of the Red-tailed Hawk is a dark belly band as you see in this photo.
For about ten years, we have seen the same pair of Owls in a certain tree on our raptor tour. I walked around the tree without seeing this guy. His mate spooked and flew off. A few minutes later, we found this one still perched in the branches.
Great Horned Owls are very distinctive with their huge ears poking up.