Foghorn the Red-tailed Hawk

Many of you may already be familiar with the beautiful raptor frequently seen soaring over the garden center, but perhaps you would like to get to know him better. Meet Foghorn, our resident red-tailed hawk here at Shonnard’s. Foghorn, as he is affectionately dubbed by our comically frustrated photographers, has lived in the large coast redwood near the native section for several years now.

When our garden center staff first became aware of Foghorn, he was by all appearances a fully fledged red-tailed hawk, but his call was still that of a juvenile. Based on this, I would put him somewhere between 2 and 3 years of age at the time. This was perhaps 3 years ago now and Foghorn has grown into a fully voiced and very handsome adult hawk. Red-tailed hawks have a surprisingly small territory for being such large birds with such powerful wings and usually only claim somewhere around 2 square miles as their territory. This explains why Foghorn can almost always be seen from the garden center for those who are patient.

Last season Foghorn began to woo his mate, and those who looked upward often saw the two hawks diving, dancing, and joining talons in midair. Their aerobatics were graceful, daring, and often very vocal. Several times the pair was joined by a rival hawk seeking to steal away Foggy’s date. This rivalry lasted most of the summer and no one was quite sure who was gaining the upper hand, but all those who watched were regaled with stunning shows of flight.

I once saw Foghorn and his rival plummet upside down nearly to the ground near our pond plants before darting off back into the air at breakneck speed. Luckily, sharp flight maneuvers and attitude seemed to make up the majority of their battling.

This spring it seems that Foghorn has won the rivalry and is more active than ever around the garden center. In fact, he has been so active that many of our garden staff and customers have taken notice. This is Foghorn’s domain and he has no fear or regard for humans in the way of his prey. There have been several events recently that most people never get to see:

  • It is said that a housecat will bring its human pieces of its kill as a show of affection. Perhaps the same can be said of a red-tailed hawk? I was walking through the area we use to store sold plants when I looked up and had to question the integrity of my eyes. Foghorn had dropped half of his lunch (a tree squirrel by the looks of it) on the shade cloth above me! It was a shocking discovery, but I had to laugh in spite of myself and mumble something about why his name is Foghorn.
  • In another incident Foghorn was seen plummeting to the ground on the bike path a mere 10 feet from a startled cyclist to successfully snag a rodent. I wish I had been there with my camera!
  • Hawks don’t like missing lunch! After missing a meal, Foghorn refused to give up easily and dove straight into a barberry bush! He clung to the thorny bush and battered it around to try to flush out his meal. To those who watched, it appeared he might be stuck in the bush, but after getting his aggression out, he took to the air to try again.
  • Just yesterday I snapped a photo (picture above) of Foghorn on the low perch of the streetlight by our gate. He perched patiently for almost 10 minutes, waiting for prey as I ran frantically to grab my camera. At long last I got a good photo of the glint in his hunting eye! …and then I looked away for just a moment. He dove into the drainage ditch and didn’t fly out. I almost thought I had just missed his flight out of the ditch, so I walked around to confirm my suspicions. Victory! Foghorn was still there, with a snake clutched securely in his talons. I was still a safe distance from him and he was not concerned with me at all. Before I could raise my camera to take another shot, Foghorn was back in the air, calling out and showing off his catch to anyone who cared to look. This victory flight happens quite often these days, with Foghorn showing off his kill and calling out to anyone who will listen. It is always fun to see him doing this!

These events spaced out over several weeks or months seems normal, but they have all happened within the last week, which got us thinking. Foghorn has been hunting much more frequently than normal and has been in close contact with humans without a second thought. He is focused, determined, and territorial.

This behavior leads me to believe that Foghorn is a new father! Red-tailed hawks mate for life and share incubation duties, but the male does most of the hunting for the first few weeks after the clutch hatches, with the female on nest duty feeding and tending to the 2-4 chicks.

So if you see Foghorn diving past you or soaring above you, he is just hard at work being a good dad! Happy Father’s Day to Foghorn the Red-tailed Hawk and to all of you hardworking dads out there!

~ Camille Dill, Shonnard’s Nursery, Florist, and Landscape

For more information about red-tailed hawks, check out Audubon’s website below!

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