Thursday, February 11, 2010

Campus Hawk

I spent about 30 minutes today watching a juvenile red-tailed hawk eat a squirrel.  I am pretty sure that it was the same one that I saw eating a squirrel two years ago in a different part of campus, and one of my friends saw a hawk eating a squirrel in roughly the same spot last year.  If it is the same bird, it should be getting its adult coloration soon.

Actually, I was dividing my time between watching the hawk and watching the other people around me.  About half the people I saw just walked by, oblivious.  About half of the people who did see it did not seem to care, and the rest stopped and watched it for varying amounts of time.  I was there the longest; few people were interested enough to watch it for more than a few minutes.

Almost everyone who saw it took a picture with a mobile phone.  I assume that some of these pictures should be on Facebook by now, but I was unable to find any of them.  Facebook's search functions are incredibly bad at searching for content in the posts of people in your network.  There should be a way to hunt for things like that.  But all of the search functions are for finding people, not finding the things that they are saying or posting.

The hawk started eating the squirrel's head and worked down the body.  I learned that a hawk will swallow a squirrel foreleg whole.  I assume that it will regurgitate the bones later.  I thought only owls did that.

The most interesting part was when it got to the intestines.  It took over a minute for it to slurp up the small intestine, like a single giant strand of spaghetti.  It would consume some of it, then look around with the intestine stretching from its beak to the body cavity of the squirrel, then swallow some more, than wait, until it finally got to the large intestine, at which point it severed the intestine and ate something else.

After a while, the bird grabbed what was left of the squirrel's body and flew up to the top of a lamp post to finish eating it.  I went over to see what was left.  There was the stomach, split open so I could see that it was full of yellow chewed acorns, the large intestine, and a very long, thin liver.  It makes sense that the squirrel would need a lot of liver to break down the tannins in the acorns.

Some of the comments I overheard:

"Well, that is one way to deal with the squirrel problem."
"Dude, it would claw your face off."

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