Tag Archives: fledging

Summer’s Secret Stories

As I mentioned last time, it’s been a hard season for forest babies: no eaglet, no owlet, no bushtit-lets. After realizing this wouldn’t be the year for any of them, it took a while to recalibrate my attention toward the less conspicuous developments of spring nesting, those subtle clues to smaller dramas. On closer inspection, the Black-capped Chickadee hopping through the hawthornes turned out to be gleaning nutritious protein for its children, hidden somewhere in nearby shrubbery but peeping insistently for their forthcoming meal.

Black-capped Chickadee with grub

Black-capped Chickadee with grub

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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.

Branching hawklets

The young hawks have started branching! This means that they leave their nest to hop along nearby branches, practicing their balancing and flight skills—and equally important, their landing skills.

Look at this sequence, which I was lucky enough to catch just as I got to my viewing site. The nest is that mass of twigs in the lower right quadrant of the photo, and in the first picture, the hawk is standing on it facing left, stretching his wings over his head like a high diver…which he sort of is, or will be. A second young hawk is perched about 10:00 from the jumping one. (You can click on the photos for a larger view; I wanted to leave the photos this size rather than cropping further, to give you a better sense of the aerial context in which he’s doing his exercises.) Total elapsed time for all eleven photos is six seconds.

Young Cooper's Hawk doing wing stretches

Young Cooper's Hawk gets ready to jump

Young Cooper's Hawk lifts wings to jump

Young Cooper's Hawk in mid-leap

Young Cooper's Hawk touching back down

Young Cooper's Hawk lands

Gawain is strengthening both his legs and his wings as he jumps on the nest. Just as he lands in the photo above, he twists and fly-hops over to the next branch. turns around, and awkwardly returns to the nest, seeming to almost tumble head-over-heels into it:

Young Cooper's Hawk leaps out of nest, legs akimbo

Young Cooper's Hawk makes it to the next branch

Young Cooper's Hawk turns around to hop back to nest

Young Cooper's Hawk lands awkwardly in nest

Young Cooper's Hawk rights himself in nest

Anyone else remember those awkward teenage years?

Here’s one last photo of one of our young hawks for today, still looking like an angel up there on the branch below the nest:

Young Cooper's Hawk on branch below his nest

Of course, as they get more independent of the nest it’s harder to find them in the woods. But their mom is still staying nearby, watching their arboreal gymnastics.

Mother Cooper's Hawk watching her children like a ... hawk

Last night’s West Seattle Blog reports that a different young hawk was found in the next watershed over, apparently unable to fly. It sounds like someone who’d earlier seen the same bird was harassed by the young one’s protective mother, and finally a noble rescuer put her baby in a carrying case for transport to a local wildlife rescue organization.

Was that the right thing to do? It’s hard to say. If it was really young or injured, yes; if it was just on the ground for a little while, having lost its grip on branches above, then maybe a good approach would have been to lift it up onto a higher branch (to get it out of the way of dogs, for instance) and let it fly-hop its way back upwards with its mother’s encouragement.

But it sure is good to know about the folks out there who take the time and trouble to try to care for a young wild creature. Hopefully we’ll get to learn more about what happens to it!