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Page:Ornithological biography, or an account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America, volume 1.djvu/325

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RED-SHOULDERED HAWK

circles just mentioned, when it often dives and gambols. It is a more general inhabitant of the woods than most of our other species, particularly during the summer, and in autumn and winter; now and then only, in early spring, shewing itself in the open grounds, and about the vicinity of small lakes, for the purpose of securing Red-winged Starlings and wounded Ducks.

The interior of woods seems, as I have said, the fittest haunts for the Red-shouldered Hawk. He sails through them a few yards above the ground, and suddenly alights on the low branch of a tree, or the top of a dead stump, from which he silently watches, in an erect posture, for the appearance of squirrels, upon which he pounces directly and kills them in an instant, afterwards devouring them on the ground. If accidentally discovered, he essays to remove the squirrel, but finding this difficult, he drags it partly through the air and partly along the ground, to some short distance, until he conceives himself out of sight of the intruder, when he again commences feeding. The eating of a whole squirrel, which this bird often devours at one meal, so gorges it, that I have seen it in this state almost unable to fly, and with such an extraordinary protuberance on its breast as seemed very unnatural, and very injurious to the beauty of form which the bird usually displays. On all occasions, such as I have described, when the bird is so gorged, it is approached with the greatest ease. On the contrary, when it is in want of food, it requires the greatest caution to get within shooting distance of it.

At the approach of spring, this species begins to pair, and its flight is accompanied with many circlings and zigzag motions, during which it emits its shrill cries. The male is particularly noisy at this time. He gives chase to all other Hawks, returns to the branch on which his mate has chanced to perch, and caresses her. This happens about the beginning of March. The spot adapted for a nest is already fixed upon, and the fabric is half finished. The top of a tall tree appears to be preferred by this Hawk, as I have found its nest more commonly placed there, not far from the edges of woods bordering plantations. The nest is seated in the forks of a large branch, towards its extremity, and is as bulky as that of the Common Crow. It is formed externally of dry sticks and Spanish moss, and is lined with withered grass and fibrous roots of different sorts, arranged in a circular manner. The female usually lays four eggs, sometimes five. They are of a broad oval form, granulated all over, pale blue, faintly blotched with brownish-red at the smaller end.