Raptors of Texomaland

Most people know that Bald Eagles visit Texomaland every winter, but the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) reports that Eagles live in their refuge all year long. North Texas is home to many more raptors, which is the name for birds of prey, or Condors, Eagles, Falcons, Hawks, Owls, and Vultures. At certain times of the year, as many as 20 species of raptors live in North Central Texas and South Central Oklahoma. It is the perfect time to raptor watch in December and January.  

Eagles of Lake Texoma

Raptor comes from the Latin word “raptare”, which means to seize and carry off. Condors and Eagles are the largest and strongest raptors. The Bald Eagle is most commonly seen in Texomaland. Golden Eagles are migrants and rarely seen in Texas.  You will see more Golden Eagles in Oklahoma than in Texas and Bald Eagles year-round there.

People typically see Eagles more in the winter because the leaves have left the trees. Eagles do not live all over the Red River, but large reservoirs like Lake Texoma attract them. Eagles prefer fish, but they also eat birds, small mammals, and reptiles. An Eagle will eat about 2,000 mice a year if they are available. They prefer live prey, but if necessary, they will eat carrion. Eagles hunt in the daytime hours. 

Eagles live all over the earth except in the North and South Poles. Worldwide, there are 60 species of Eagles. In the U.S., Eagles usually mate for life, and both males and females build immense nests with piles of sticks, branches, and human debris in the crowns of large trees or on inaccessible cliff ledges. They return to the same nests year after year and continue building them. Nests can become too heavy for the tree or ledge to support and fall to the ground. 

Bald Eagles and Eaglets need huge nests because the babies grow very large and the whole family eventually has an approximate six-foot wingspan. Eagle watchers can only tell the age of an Eagle by its plumage until age five, and after that, you cannot age them. Eagles do not push their Eaglets out of their nests to teach them to fly. Sometimes the parents withhold food as Eaglets grow near their fledgling age. 

Bald Eagles breed across the contiguous U.S. and from central Alaska and the Aleutian Islands across Canada to Newfoundland. Most of the time, Eagles will perch and wait for prey to come along, then swoop down to snatch it up instead of flying to hunt for food. They rarely land on the ground. The female typically lays one to three eggs, but two is the usual amount in an Eagle clutch. 

"Eagle on Eagle" Crime

Not all Bald Eagles are great parents and faithful mates. Here and there is the lazy Eagle who loafs instead of hunting for his or her family, cheats on his or her mate, and commits home-nest invasions. Bryan Watts, the director of the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) at William and Mary College, reports, “It seems that as the Eagle population goes up, the famous monogamous nature of the birds begins to go down.”

Eagle researchers discuss the “divorce rate” among Eagles. Watts said, “The Eagle adultery rate is thought to be around 15%. Both male and female Eagles will cheat. The most likely scenario is that Charlie’s off fishing somewhere and Joe comes in to mate with the female while she’s at the nest. Charlie comes back. He doesn’t know what’s happened, but he ends up raising Joe’s chicks.” 

To check the stray rate, researchers collect feathers underneath Eagle nests and run a DNA test in different years. Eagles will also invade other Eagle’s nests and force them out of their homes. Researchers have studied this behavior with nest-cams. Courtney Turrin, a graduate student in William & Mary’s biology department in 2012, led the CCB’s video-based investigation of the domestic life of Eagles. 

In the Chesapeake Bay region in 1970, there were less than 20 Bald Eagle couples, but they have repopulated to return in great numbers. Turrin had 12 study sites, which included a live-streaming loblolly nest webcam. Each nest in the study had a camera set up as much as 100 meters away to monitor activity around the nest site. Turrin and her team watched thousands of hours of Eagle videos, which logged various behaviors.

Turrin reported that the number of single adult eagles causes some friction. “There is a higher proportion of non-breeding adults [in the Chesapeake Bay region] because of the number of birds and the limited availability of nesting territories—and we are observing sneaky behaviors by young males. We’re seeing some nest intrusions…” Turrin observed adult intruders and a lot of younger juveniles crashing nests.

“We’re not sure who those juveniles are,” said Turrin, “Maybe they are chicks coming back to their natal territory. Or maybe they are coming out of a sense of curiosity? We can’t be sure. Bald Eagles are social creatures.” Bald Eagles can live up to 30 years. If a female begins nesting at age five, and lives to 25-years of age, and lays two eggs every year, the Eagle couple raises approximately 40 Eaglets.

Hawks of Lake Texoma

Red-tailed Hawks are the most common Hawk species in Oklahoma and Texas and in the U.S. They live in Texomaland year-round. The Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk are also common in Texomaland. Broad-winged, Ferruginous, Rough-legged, Harris, and Swainson Hawks also hang out in this area. The Ferruginous and Broad-winged Hawks are rare and here in the winter. The Harris and Swainson Hawks are here in spring and fall. 

Hawks are a large group of predatory birds, and there are over 50 different species with sharp talons and beaks. Hawks are somewhat like eagles and owls but have several clear differences. Hawk species are various sizes, feathers, and colors, and they have large eyes. Hawks hunt during daylight hours. 

Hawks live all over the world except in the Polar Regions. They live and hunt in forests, marshes, meadows, prairies, deserts, rainforests, and wetlands. Some Hawk species live in urban areas in parks and gardens. Each Hawk species has a different range, but their ranges can overlap. They eat only meat. 

Some Hawk species hunt for anything they can catch, like birds, fish, lizards, mice, rabbits, rats, snakes, squirrels, or anything tiny enough to catch. Other species prefer and only hunt for a few types of prey and will not eat anything else. Sadly, Hawks go after small farm animals, and farmers shoot them as nuisance birds. 

Although humans have practiced falconry with Hawks for centuries, Hawks are not pets and do not make good pets. They need vast amounts of space to fly around in, and in some jurisdictions, it is difficult to get the necessary permits to own Hawks. Most of the Hawks in zoos are injury rescue birds, where they become wealthy Hawks who do not have to work with lifetime supplies of mice, rats, and other prey.

A few Hawk species are more social than others and gather and hunt in small groups. Most Hawk species are solitary. Some species mate together for life, and these pairs are territorial and do not socialize with other members of their species. Hawk species utilize different hunting methods, but most prefer to perch quietly on a high branch or other tall perch-friendly places until they see their dinners.

Hawks typically kill their prey with their claws. Hawk clutches range between one and five eggs, and they hatch in about a month. Juvenile Hawks become fledglings and begin flying at age six weeks. Female Hawks are larger than males in most species. In some species, the female Hawk is twice as big as the male. Hawk courtship rituals are quite involved. 

Red-tailed Hawk pairs soar into the air while screaming at each other, and then the male dives at the female, who may roll in the air to present her claws to him in mock combat. The male Marsh Hawk flies in a series of graceful U's over the marsh where his intended female is watching. Like Eagles, some species of Hawks return to the same next year after year. 

Owls of Lake Texoma

Barn Owls, Eastern Screech Owls, and Great Horned Owls live in Texomaland year-round, plus there are seven other species of Owls live in Texas. In Texas, these other species are the Barred Owl, Burrowing Owl, Eastern Screech-owl, Long-eared Owl, Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, and Western Screech-owl. Owls hunt at night. 

Oklahoma has most of those Owls, plus the Elf Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, and Flammulated Owl, but not necessarily in Texomaland. Not all of these owls live in or migrate to Texomaland. You do not want Owls if you have chickens or small outdoor pets, a garden, or if you need security lights at night. But if you like Owls, the following are some ways you can attract them to your property: 

  1. Install nesting boxes: Give Owls a secure location to set up home. Most Owls seek hollow cavities in trees to nest, except for Screech Owls. They are attracted to manufactured boxes. Place Screech Owl boxes in trees 10 to 12-feet from the ground on property perimeter where poop will not be a problem.
  2. Don’t prune large branches from trees: Owls prefer horizontal perches to look for prey.
  3. Put outdoor flood lights on timers: Owls are night-stalkers. Well-lit yards do not appeal to Owls. Turn out the lights when it gets dark, so the Owls can hunt.
  4. Provide bird baths: Owls can be attracted by a large bird bath to drink from and bathe in.
  5. Mow the lawn less often to give Owls a more appealing hunting ground: Mice and other small rodents are less likely to hang around a perfectly manicured lawn. 
  6. Put out bird feeders: Bird feeders attract prey for Owls. 
  7. Owls are more likely to return to a hunting ground they find successful. 

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Lake Texoma Water Level (last 30 days)

Water Level on 5/28: 619.34 (+2.34)

Lake Texoma

Fishing Report from TPWD (May 22)

GOOD. Water normal stain; 67 degrees; 2.82 feet above pool. Striped bass fishing is excellent on live shad and topwaters. Anchoring on deep river ledges and flats in 60-80 feet of water fishing suspended around 40 feet catching quality and quantity on live shad. Top waters early along rocky banks where shad are still spawning. Catfishing is good using cut shad and prepared baits along the rocks in 20-40 feet of water. Free line dead shad or fish vertically along the rocks. Bass are fair using top waters early along the bluffs and on long points. Water temps in the mid 70s look for fish under docks and tires near marinas. Clear water is along the southern end of the lake. Crappie are fair using jigs fishing structure using electronics to locate active fish in 12-18 feet of water. Clear water is from TI point to the Dam and in the little mineral arm of the lake. Report by Jacob Orr, Guaranteed Guide Service Lake Texoma. Stripers are good, catching the better fish starting with topwaters early, then switching to swim baits in 10-20 feet of water to get smaller fish. Water is starting to clear up from the recent rains on most of the lake. The lake has dropped 3 feet over the last week, and should return to normal, if it does not rain too much later this week. Report by John Blasingame, Adventure Texoma Outdoors.

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