NATURE WALK: PREDATOR AND PREY AT WORK AND AT PLAY
Updated: Jun 12
From the park bench, I could easily watch the two Eastern gray squirrels fake fighting and playing. These squirrels tend to be more solitary and less playful than ground squirrels but these two squirrels were bouncing around as if they could defy gravity. Eastern gray squirrels are actually quite impressive jumpers, and can easily leap up to fifteen feet horizontally and free-fall twenty feet or more. These squirrels have especially thrived in human environments where they have easy access to food (including many decorative plants) and where people feed them.
It was a pleasant little scene and I looked down to check my phone. When I looked up, the scene had changed. The bouncing squirrels had disappeared. Where did they go? I saw one motionless in the dirt and one had scurried even further away from the tree. What had changed? Had it been a territory battle? No, that wasn’t it. A large white chest and brown head swiveled to look down at me. High above me, perched where there had been nothing before was a large red tailed hawk. But of course! Those two well fed squirrels would not only be an easy catch but they had been so loud and active they had drawn the attention of a predator. Fear not reader, no
squirrels were harmed. The hawk remained perched for sometime hoping to catch one of the squirrels unaware, but after some time it gave up and as suddenly as it had appeared the hawk took to the sky in search of another easier meal.
Hawks use their keen eyes to find their prey, and in particular red-tailed hawks, like the one I was surprised to see appear before me, are known to perch and watch patiently before descending upon their prey. This strategy is known as “perch-hunting” and is very effective in helping them to catch slower prey or prey that is so abundant it is an easy target. Eastern gray squirrels fit the prey description for the red tailed hawk perfectly, but even though they are a favorite of the raptor these two squirrels had responded quickly and
lived to jump and climb another day. What was most fascinating about the drama playing out before my eyes was to see how quickly the squirrels disappeared and how silently and suddenly the hawk appeared. It was all within a matter of seconds. I looked down to check a message on my phone and the scene had completely changed. Take some time this week to see what sort of nature dramas are unfolding around you!
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