Nature on the Golf Course – May 18, 2005

I played golf yesterday at Woodmont Golf Club. As we rode in the golf cart from the green on hole 14 up the hill to the tee at hole 15, I saw a silvery flash in the woods out of the corner of my eye just above the underbrush. Then we heard the sounds of a struggle in the leaves and saw the underbrush moving. Suddenly, a screaming, shrieking sound filled the air. There was a golfer standing on the tee of the hole who came over to see what was going on. As we walked into the woods we could see a large red-tailed hawk, but we couldn’t see what it had in its talons.

Hawkrt The golfer from the tee box (with a club in his hand) walked down close to the hawk. The horrible death sounds continued. He got within about six feet of the hawk and could see a full-grown cottontail rabbit in the clutches of the hawk. We went closer and could see that the hawk was on the back of the rabbits neck. The rabbit was trying to get into the "brier patch" and the hawk was trying to keep the rabbit in the more open ground at the edge of the woods. The rabbit managed to move into the brush for a moment with the hawk riding on top. But about two minutes later the hawk came hopping out into the open ground dragging the limp rabbit.

The hawk lives on the golf course and is quite acclimated to people. I walked to within 10 feet and he just stood on the rabbit with a intimidating fierceness. I’ve seen many such sequences on TV but witnessing it is a different matter. On TV, we’re just remote observers. Being there for the action, we could feel the rabbit’s struggle and agony and see the power and skill of the predator.

I tried to tee off and hit the ball about 50 yards left of the green into the woods. I couldn’t begin to concentrate on golf. I was wondering about whether or not the hawk could fly away with the rabbit while I was trying to hit the shot. When we left the hawk was starting to feed on its kill.

Later I stopped by to see what remained. The hawk had eaten the shoulder and the contents of the chest cavity and left the rest. Some coon or possum had a good feast after finding that carcass.

A big red-tailed hawk weighs about two pounds. The rabbit probably weighed four pounds. A two-pound predator killed prey twice its size – that’s impressive strength and confidence.