California Outdoors Q&A

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What was the cause of death for the young red-tailed hawk that was taken by an eagle in Santa Clara County?
  • August 24, 2023
eagle flying with a hawk in its claws

Red-tailed hawk

Q: What was the cause of death for the young red-tailed hawk that was taken by an eagle to its nest in Santa Clara County?

A: In late May, two red-tailed hawk nestlings were taken by an eagle to its nest where the eagle and its mate were caring for an eaglet. The hawk nestlings were likely taken as prey items for the eaglet, said CDFW Raptor Coordinator Shannon Skalos. It is common for raptors to take nestlings of other birds to feed their own nestlings. One of the hawk nestlings was eaten by an adult eagle. However, the other one spent time in the nest with the eaglet and adult eagle pair. The hawk nestling was initially fed and cared for by the adult eagles. But as the hawk got older, the eaglet and the adult eagles were aggressive with it causing the young hawk to suffer injuries. Eventually, the hawk was no longer fed, and its condition began to deteriorate. The hawk was found dead in early July near the nest in Santa Clara County.

CDFW’s Wildlife Health Laboratory conducted a necropsy on the hawk and determined it died due to trauma likely sustained from the eagles. The hawk was also emaciated and had almost no fat reserves and atrophied muscles. It had likely not eaten for several days up to a couple of weeks. The findings in CDFW’s necropsy report are consistent with public observations of activity at the nest such as the hawk not being fed regularly, competition with the eaglet and physical altercations with at least one of the adult eagles, said Skalos.

California foxes

Q: Which fox species live in California?

A: The simplest answer is that there are four fox species in California: gray fox, island fox, red fox and kit fox. California is home to two subspecies of kit fox, the endangered San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica) and the desert kit fox (Vulpes macrotis arsipus). However, the San Joaquin kit fox is found only in the San Joaquin Valley and is geographically separated from other kit foxes by the Tehachapi Mountains. Additionally, scientists now recognize two native subspecies of red fox in California: Sierra red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator) and Sacramento Valley red fox (Vulpes vulpes patwin) along with the introduced eastern red fox. The earliest known red fox introduction occurred in the southern Sacramento Valley during the 1870s. Early settlers imported and released eastern red foxes for hunting and fur trapping.

Shark encounters

Q: What is the likelihood of encountering a shark in the ocean in California?

A: At CDFW we like to reinforce the idea that the ocean is a wilderness. Just as when you go into a forest and may encounter a bear or mountain lion, when you go into the ocean you may encounter a shark. However, the chance of an incident with a shark is extremely low — as evidenced by the very low number of documented incidents in California. With tens of thousands of people in the water at California beaches each year, there have been slightly more than 200 incidents since 1950 (PDF) where any species of shark approached and touched a person in the water or on a board or kayak. Among documented incidents since 1950, slightly more than 100 involved injuries to humans. Of those, 15 were fatal. There have been no documented shark incidents in 2023 as of mid-August. CDFW maintains a shark incident database and has a role in several aspects of shark management including tracking landings of white sharks taken incidentally in commercial fisheries.


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