5 Raptors at Bolsa Chica

Photo: Lam-Son Vinh
White-tailed Kite Photo: Lam-Son Vinh

Bolsa Chica has many different types of raptors, or birds of prey, who frequent the area looking for food, shelter and sometimes even a place to raise a family.  You can find raptors from the littlest falcon to the only hawk on this continent that eats almost exclusively fish.  We have owls who live underground, to CA Fully Protected raptors who find refuge at the Reserve.  Here are 5 raptors who represent some of the wide-ranging diversity of raptors you can see at Bolsa Chica.

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    Photo: Jane Lazarz

    Osprey Pandion haliaetus

    The Osprey is Bolsa Chica’s fishing raptor.  You can see this large slender bird flying over the water, dive down talons first, and catch fish.  When they fly off, they position the head of the fish facing forward which helps with aerodynamics.  These birds are white and brown with a stripe of brown from the eye towards the neck dividing their white heads.  They fly with slightly kinked wings, so they look like the letter M when seen from below.  You can often see them perched on the bare branches of trees on the edge of the water.

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    Photo: Lam-Son Vinh

    Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis

    The Red-tailed hawk is the most common hawk in North America.  This is a large hawk with a rusty red tail when mature.  Depending on the ‘morph’ of the bird, it can vary in color, with the ‘dark-morph’ darker than the ‘rufous-morph’.  Also, when Red-tailed Hawks are juveniles, their tails are banded with brown.  Most often you will see this bird soaring high in the air in circles, or perched high and staring at the ground for movement (often times rodents).  If you see a hawk or an eagle on TV and hear a shrill cry, it is almost always a Red-tailed Hawk making that sound.

  1. Photo: Jane Lazarz
    Photo: Jane Lazarz

    Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia

    The one raptor who prefers the ground over the sky is the Burrowing Owl.  This is a smaller owl who has remarkable long legs who can be seen staring at you with their bright yellow eyes on top of a dirt mound.  They live in burrows in the ground that they have either dug themselves or taken from other animals like ground squirrels.  Unlike other owls, these owls are active during the day as well as at night.  When startled, they will bob their heads up and down.  These owls are mostly found on the uplands at Bolsa Chica.

  1. photo: Lam-Son Vinh
    photo: Lam-Son Vinh

    White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus

    The White-tailed Kite is one of the raptors who is listed on the California Fully Protected List.  These medium sized birds are very unique with their mostly white bodies, black patch on the shoulders on top of the gray wings and very slanted red eyes.  These birds are known for their behavior of hovering in place while hunting over grasslands looking for prey.  This behavior is so characteristic of kites that it is called kiting.  They are also known for their spectacular aerial courtship when a male offers prey to a female.  The female will fly up to him, turn upside-down and grab the gift from the male.

  1. photo: Jane Lazarz
    photo: Jane Lazarz

    American Kestrel Falco sparverius

    The smallest falcon in North America, the American Kestrel is one of the most colorful raptors at Bolsa Chica.  The species is dimorphic, which means the males look different from the females.  Females are the drabber of the two, but she has beautiful rusty red on her back, tail, and wings, streaking on the check and wings, and bold white and black pattern on their faces.  Males have blue wings and blue on the crown of their heads (along with the white checks, and black mustache) with the brown spots on their rusty backs, paler chests and a black band on the tip of the tail.  They are roughly the size of a Mourning Dove with pointy wings.  The American Kestrels are most often seen near the American century plants (Agave Americana) and on the Mesa fence.

Resources: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/t_e_spp/fully_pro.html#Birds
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/

*Thank you to Lam-Son Vinh and Jane Lazarz for use of these beautiful photos!*

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