by Eric Neubauer
Much has been written for those of us who want to attract wildlife, but sometimes luck plays a part. It turns out this is an ideal venue for hawks, validated by the hawks themselves.
I planned to make my former farmland a prairie rather than a lawn because that’s what would be natural for the area. Doing nothing was a great start. While I decided how best to proceed, nature took over. All kinds of plants came up, both native and non-native. By then I knew I’d have to mow once in a while to control the growth of brush since burning wasn’t a safe option. I mowed several paths through the grass and weeds and around the house so I’d could access various parts of the yard without walking through head-high grasses and forbs. Next I started mowing in from two edges of the property before stopping and leaving the rest as cover for wildlife. This included the margin along the north edge of the property under the power line next to the road.
When late fall arrived I noticed how often a hawk was sitting on the power line. At first a Prairie Falcon was there on a regular basis, then an American Kestrel, Cooper’s Hawk, and Red-Tailed Hawk showed up. After a couple of months it looked like they’d finally hunted the area out, and started watching across the road instead. Today they are gone except for the American Kestrel. On the last busy day, the Cooper’s was on the power line just as it started to get light. Then a Red-tailed Hawk (I think) flew up to the transformer on the pole about 15’ from the Cooper’s, before moving down a couple of poles. Right after that an American Kestrel came along and buzzed the Cooper’s before landing on the wire midway between the other two. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen that happen. Loggerhead Shrikes are also on the wire a lot, but that’s a year round occurrence. I know hawks are also perching on my roof and using the mowed area around the house in the same way.
Here is why I think the venue worked so well;
- The tall grass provided cover and food for grasshoppers, small birds, and rodents. The mowed area next to it made them accessible to the hawks when the prey strayed.
- The wire was on the north side of my property so they could approach their prey with their shadows behind them and the prey wouldn’t be warned as a shadow passed over them.
The grasshoppers are also giving out now. The only ones left are a very few Schistocerca americana and Melanoplus femurrubrum adults, and some Chortophaga viridifasciata nymphs. In late summer, there were hundreds of thousands of M. femurrubrum nymphs, and a plague of Biblical proportions appeared to be brewing. It appears few ever made it to adulthood, and those that did suffered heavy predation. I’m sure the little birds did their bit, but the hawks did too. Attracting birds isn’t purely for entertainment.