- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
American kestrels, red-tailed hawks, belted kingfishers, and great blue herons are common, easily spotted predatory birds here in southeastern Pennsylvania, as elsewhere.
All these species are permanent residents in this area, nesting and wintering here. Kestrels and red-tails hunt rodents and other creatures in fields and along roadsides, and the kingfishers and herons stalk fish and other aquatic creatures in local waterways and human-made impoundments.
Kestrels are attractive, small hawks that are often seen perched on roadside wires, watching for mice along roadside shoulders through each year, and grasshoppers there in summer and autumn.
Interestingly, kestrels are also seen hovering lightly, rapidly beating wings into the wind, as they look for rodents and grasshoppers in fields and grassy medial strips of expressways and along the edges of country roads, where field mice can be plentiful.
Red-tailed hawks perch high in lone trees in fields and along hedgerows between fields, where they watch for field mice and gray squirrels to consume. Those hawks are most readily seen in winter when foliage is off the trees.
And red-tails soar gracefully in circles high in the sky as they scan the ground for prey. When a potential victim is spotted, each red-tail dives rapidly with claws extended to catch the critter. Red-tails and kestrels both snare prey with their eight sharp, curved talons.
Belted kingfishers perch on tree limbs that reach over ponds and waterways to watch for frogs, crayfish, and small fish. And, like kestrels, kingfishers hover on quickly beating wings, facing into the wind as they look for prey animals. When a potential victim is spotted, each kingfisher dives beak-first into the water to grab the victim with its long, stout bill.
Stately great blue herons stand about 5 feet tall and wade cautiously in waterways and impoundments to catch fish, frogs, crayfish, water snakes, and other water creatures with their lengthy beaks.
Since these herons are much larger than kingfishers, they are able to snare bigger fish, thus reducing competition for food with kingfishers. Great blues also catch goldfish and koi from backyard goldfish ponds, much to the dismay of the pond owners.
These permanent-resident, predatory birds are easily seen in cropland and farmland waterways and impoundments, where they watch for prey animals to eat. They help make those local habitats interesting, as they do through much of North America.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.