Winter is a perfect time to get out and search for raptors. With no leaves on the trees these birds are much easier to find and unobstructed views are achievable. Southwestern Ontario is home to many raptors with some being year round residents, while others overwinter in the area.
Raptors can be found just about anywhere in our area including conservation areas, city parks, ESAs, and even backyards. These birds are quite prevalent in our area, but being observant is key to finding them. Raptors and other birds of prey often perch high in trees adjacent to open areas. Depending on the species of raptor, these open areas may be fields, a body of water, or your own backyard. This not only gives the bird an excellent vantage point to find prey, but also provides easy access to their chosen perch. Scanning these areas will yield the best results when searching for raptors.
One of the most abundant raptors in our area is the Red-tailed Hawk. Many of our city parks have at least one or two of these large birds of prey as residents. Often seen soaring high overhead, these birds also regularly perch almost motionless along the edge an open area moving jut their heads as they scan for prey. Like many other birds, Red-tailed Hawks are well camouflaged, but being observant and searching for their stocky bodies will help locate them.
Since the ban of DDT more than 40 years ago, Bald Eagles have slowly rebounded and are now regularly seen in our area. Despite this, they are still listed as a species at risk in Ontario. Birding along the Thames River during winter months will often result in finding at least one of these majestic raptors. With no leaves on the trees, these massive birds can be easily seen even from great distances.
Cooper’s Hawks can be regular visitors to any backyard where bird feeders are present. These medium sized, agile raptors can easily navigate around trees, buildings and other obstructions making them a top urban predator. These birds tend to be more regular in backyards during winter months as they scan feeding stations looking for an easy meal in the form of an unsuspecting songbird. If you have ever witnessed all the birds at your feeder quickly scatter for cover, a Cooper’s Hawk or other raptor has likely entered the area. If you do notice this, scan the trees around your yard as these birds will often perch nearby after a missed attempt or to consume their catch. This is one of the best times to get great views of this raptor.
If you are wishing to see more raptors in your area, fortunately you do not have to travel very far. Start by searching your favourite city park or natural area. Regardless of where you select, find an open area where it meets a treeline and focus your search there. Keep in mind this does not have to be a large forest. A small cluster or row of trees provides plenty of suitable perches and vantage points for raptors to search for prey. Start by looking high up in trees, then slowly scanning your eyes down the trees towards the ground. If raptors are present, this will help locate them.
With a few months remaining before the trees leaf out, there is plenty of time to obtain optimal views of raptors. By searching in the above mentioned areas and being observant, I think you too will have great success and might just be surprised by the number of raptors you find at your favourite natural area.