This Week’s Creature Feature: Red Shouldered Hawk Dines on Shrew

This time of year, a bird can’t be too particular

        I had followed the young hawk as it hunted along the Wildlife Drive at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. It would sit on a low branch and look intently into the grasses below, then suddenly drop down. On this drop, it came back to the perch with a shrew.
       I’m sure that it did not realize that it held one of the world’s four venomous mammals, and North America’s only one. The poison is a neurotoxin that can cause paralysis. The shrew has a very high metabolism and needs to eat almost continuously. Its venom allows it to attack larger animals and store smaller ones in a paralyzed state for later consumption. These shrews live about 18 months and are able start reproducing in two months.
       There are a few reports of people having burning and numbness in a finger when exposed to the shrew’s venom. Mammalian predators usually avoid shrews because they smell bad, but they are hunted by birds and snakes. The hawks do not seem affected by the smell or the poison.