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A Large Gray Hawk Watched me as I Mowed a field at my farm


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I was mowing a field with my 1953 Ford tractor on my farm in Lincoln, California, yesterday.  The field is surrounded by large Oaks, Pecans, Willows and smaller Pistachio trees., and backs up to the Auburn Ravine. I was surprised to see a this big gray hawk land near me, in the on the ground in the just-mowed grass. .  He/She watched carefully as I took down a field of oats and weeds, probably waiting for me to scare out a vole or gopher.  I saw him/her pick something out of the grass a couple times.  I was watched for 10 minutes or so, and the bird was only a few, 10 ~5 yards from my noisy tractor. 

The bird was big-- vulture-sized, and was uniformly grayish all over.  No bars on the tail and no red anywhere.  The distinctive feature was the yellow beak.  Not heavily hooked, just a regular, yellow beak.  I didn't see him take off, but I watched him rise up and start to orbit the field.

He was assaulted by a Coopers Hawk almost immediately, and was joined by another large bird I could not ID, but it probably was a Turkey Vulture.  The two larger birds rose together and the Coopers hawk broke off his dive-bombing antics and disappeared.  The two rose up high, and disappeared to the east, the Coopers went back to his trees to the west.

The only bird that fits the description closely is the Zone-tailed hawk, but its beak is more hooked.  The common Black Hawk is also a close match.  There is a Golden Eagle in this neck of the woods; could this bird be a youngster?

 

Any insights will be mucho appreciato.

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This is an interesting bird, especially with the timing of the record. In the valley, there are a good amount of hawks right now. I don't think it could be a Golden Eagle. Perched, Immature birds look close to the same as Adults. I know there are a lot of Swainson's moving up through the valley now, but they have a dark brown plumage. You eliminate Red-tailed and Red-shoulderd from the descriptions. I know lots of eagle will land in freshly cut grass, but I don't think it's one. Ferruginous Hawk may be a good option, check out both the light and dark morph. Hawks can wander long distances, so it's definitely possible for something else to show up. It would be late for a Ferrugionus, but I can't think of what else this bird could be. While it's late for Ferruginous, it would be extremely late for Rough-legged, another hawk thats gray colored. 

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ferruginous_Hawk/id

Edited by Connor Cochrane
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Welcome to Whatbird!!

Swainson's Hawk would be my first guess, based on the location and your description of the Hawk and its behavior. They can certainly look gray in the right lighting, and they do like to feed on insects on the ground. I live in Sacramento, and I've seen them feeding in fields many times. Once several years ago the was a Cicada hatch in a field just north of here and I saw close to 50 Hawks feeding on them, most of which were Swainson's. 

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My neighbor, when she heard the story, said it might be the same bird that she saw in the same field a few days ago.  Just standing there while she parked her car.  She thinks she frightened the bird, which took off with a large snake in its claws.  Probably a gopher snake, at least 3' long...

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