Bird of the Day: Red-tailed Hawk at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge
Mrs. Geotripper and I wanted to start out the new year with our favorite hobby these days: we headed out to the Merced National Wildlife Refuge to see what the winter migrants of our valley were up to. We saw a rich variety of bird species as we drove the auto-tour, but the most cooperative bird of the day was a beautiful Red-tailed Hawk. It was on a post next to the road keeping an eye on things, including us.
The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is probably the most common raptor in North America, with a range that extends from Panama to Alaska and Canada. It's also one of the largest. They are highly adaptable to different climates, with fourteen subspecies across the continent.
The Merced National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1951, not so much to protect birds, but to prevent them from damaging adjacent croplands. It was one of the earliest refuges to be established in the Great Valley. It covers just over 10,000 acres (about 16 square miles) of wetlands, grasslands, and riparian habitats, and as such is one of the few parts of the Great Valley that resembles the primeval environment that once existed here (though to be sure, it is highly managed to produce sufficient forage for the birds). It's a great place to visit, especially at this time of year. More posts to come!