On a recent trip down the Suwannee, a large bird of prey flew across the river about 25 feet in front of my canoe.
My paddling partner, a relative newcomer to the Great Outdoors, asked what kind of bird it was.
"A hawk," I replied.
"What kind of hawk?" she asked.
"A red-shouldered hawk," I replied, thinking I had a 50-50 chance of being right. Then I added, "Or maybe it was a red-tailed hawk."
This led to a brief conversation about how to tell the difference, and I of course uttered the obvious, "… one has a red shoulder and one has a red tail." But to tell the truth, when you're on the water or in the woods and you see one of the magnificent birds, it's hard to tell which is which.
So I headed down to St. Petersburg's Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, where they have a great collection of birds of prey, to sharpen my identification skills. The Preserve, one of the city's greatest treasures, is hosting a Raptor Fest this weekend, in case you want to do the same.
Let's start with the red-tailed hawk:
One of the most common hawks in the United States, you've probably seen this bird on any long car trip. Red-tailed hawks love open country, and you'll often spot them soaring over open fields hunting for food. These birds of prey feed mostly on mammals — mice, rats, squirrels and rabbits....