Out on a limb, close to home: Teen hawks’ lunchtime and the future of natural history

Our three adolescent hawks were anxiously waiting while their mother prepared lunch in the home kitchen. They kept hopping up to the nest as if to see if the meal was ready yet, then MamaHawk seemed to shoo them back out to give her room so she could tear up their prey for them. They’re still not too sure on their feet/wings, so they often wobble a bit as they move from branch to branch. (Clicking on the photo will take you to the short video.)

Three young Cooper's Hawks wait impatiently for lunch

While she was working, two of the juveniles (perhaps grumpy from their empty bellies) tussled on a branch below, one eventually knocking the other off–

Young Cooper's Hawk gets knocked off a branch by its sibling, while MamaHawk prepares lunch in the nest above

–then both of them flew to a nearby tree. I could hear lots of whistling and squealing, which I finally decided was actually coming from these big babies.

Just as I changed my camera from video to still-shooting—of course it would be just then—Mama gave some kind of signal and everyone flurried excitedly up to the nest and dug in. In this brief video you can see a couple of the young ones tugging at the same piece of delectable meat: “Mine!” “No, MINE!” Another of the young left the nest after just a minute or so of feeding. Was he not hungry? In poor health? Already fed? After a few minutes, Mama flew off the nest, landing on one of her regular perches over my head to preen.

I’m surprised at how closely the young hawks are still sticking to the nest. Do they still sleep there? Back to the cradle at bedtime? It was fun seeing the three juveniles cozied up next to each other on this branch next to the nest, right at dusk.

Three young Cooper's Hawks at dusk, ready for bedtime?

So many questions, so few answers.

As I’m writing about the young hawks’ development, when all these questions come up, I use Google Scholar to see what research has been published on such events. Ideally, we backyard naturalists can embed our local natural-history observations in the published research, so that we can contribute to or at least be informed by what others have done.

So it’s interesting that most of the publications I dig up on nestling-hawk education seem to come from the 1980’s, and many from other countries. Natural history in this country has seen a decline, both in professional research and in the classroom, and to me this is such a loss. The studies from the ‘80’s are still completely valid, of course—observations are observations—but surely there’s more left to observe and understand here in the ‘11’s.

Natural history research is experiencing hard times vis-à-vis funding, and these days it sure would be hard to get tenure at most universities on the basis of your natural history work. Fortunately, the National Science Foundation sees that there could be excellent research possibilities for natural history, and it’s supporting a terrific new initiative called “From Decline to Rebirth: The Natural History Initiative,” organized by the Natural History Network. I’ll be writing more about this initiative in future posts.

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3 responses to “Out on a limb, close to home: Teen hawks’ lunchtime and the future of natural history

  1. Enjoying following the progress. Loving your descriptions.

    (hope you’re okay that I’ve linked your blog)

  2. Pingback: Is Play for the Birds? A Lughnasa Reflection | Natural Presence

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