Tag Archives: west seattle

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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Blockwatch Success! Two Tiny Chickadees Get a Little Help From a Federal Act, a Huge State, a Public Utility, and a Private Company

A flash of yellow, glimpsed through the trees outside our living-room window, brought my partner out to the street. It came from high on the light pole that had been of such interest to flickers and chickadees the day before—this time, though, it wasn’t a feathered worker but the widespread, easily-identifiable-without-a-field-guide Yellow-Vested Utility Crew. Bright and early this Monday morning, they were transferring wires from the old, hole-ridden pole to the fresh new one beside it, then would remove the old pole.

Utility worker on nest pole

Utility worker on nest pole
(Photo by Rob Duisberg)

My chickadees! Now what?

The crew finished that day’s work and left. Would the chickadees return, or were they too alarmed by the noise and vibration and tapping of screwdrivers and pliers?

Phew – the next afternoon, Tuesday, the chickadees were back to their diligent excavations. But the drama wasn’t over yet, not by far.

Black-capped Chickadee excavating nest hole

Black-capped Chickadee excavating nest hole

I’m embarrassed to say that the following day, Wednesday, it took me a while to realize that that day’s chickadees continuing the work on nest excavation—

Chickadee peeking out of nest hole

Chickadee peeking out of nest hole

—were not just new birds, but a whole new kind of chickadee. A pair of Chestnut-backed Chickadees had taken over the nest hole since Tuesday: the third species in the span of a few days to study the hole in detail, and to work on remodeling it to their specs.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee exiting nest hole with a little bit more sawdust than he can carry

Chestnut-backed Chickadee exiting nest hole,
with a little more sawdust than he can carry

Did the Black-capped Chickadees decide to abandon this nest hole and look for a place in a quieter neighborhood? What would happen to my new little chickadees when the remaining wires were transferred to the new pole? And worse, when the old pole got removed altogether? Could the chickadee nest be saved from being toppled and tossed into a shredder?

A quick call to Seattle Audubon got me the phone numbers of people to call at the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW’s excellent wildlife biologist Chris Anderson) and Seattle City Light (SCL). As each phone rang, I mentally worked up my argument about why even a daily little bird like a chickadee should be protected just as carefully as “charismatic mesofauna” like owls, osprey, and eagles.

Of course, I had to leave a message in each case. Here we go, I thought, eternal phone tag. But I was astounded when in each case, a live human being called back within about 30 minutes: “Of course we’ll get the work stopped on that pole. Let me get your contact info and I’ll copy you on the emails.”

What?

To my surprise and delight, it turns out that the state and the utility want to help wildlife—even two tiny would-be chickadee parents.

Chickadees aren’t endangered and they sure don’t seem too migratory except between my birdfeeder and the cedar beside it, but they’re on the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act protected list. Ron Tressler, the wildlife biologist who heads up SCL’s Wildlife Research Grants Program, explained that this means that the WDFW has issued guidelines to help SCL respect all bird nests, not just the big fancy obvious ones:

  • Leave all nests in place if they do not represent a threat to reliable operations, public safety, or a constitute a nuisance;

  • Remove nuisance nests only when the nesting season is complete and the nest is inactive

Of course, usually SCL gets called about the immense osprey nests that those birds like to build on top of tempting tree-like objects with a fine view of fish-filled water: a perfect description of a high-voltage powerline tower in the Seattle area.

I had a terrific conversation with Scott Thomsen, SCL’s Senior Strategic Advisor for Communications & Public Affairs, who described what’s involved in protecting ospreys and their kids from electric dangers, and who was justifiably proud of SCL’s quick response to my chickadees. (In fact, he’s written about our chickadees for SCL’s own blog — check it out!)

My initial contact at SCL generously offered to contact the local TV/cable company to alert them to hold off on removing the final cables and pole until after nesting season. Mom and Dad Chestnut-backed Chickadee are safe for the season, hopefully along with many chickadeelets. Blockwatch success!

Chestnut-backed Chickadee removing construction debris from his home - now safe for children

Chestnut-backed Chickadee removing construction debris
from his home – now safe for children

It’s part of SCL’s stated mission to be good environmental stewards while working to provide cost-effective power so we can cook our food, heat our homes, and write blog posts on computers. Unlike a lot of organizations that like to sound green, I think these folks actually mean it. Half an hour to get back to one random citizen-naturalist wanting to protect a pair of birds who, if they held wings and jumped together on a postage scale, might tip it at one ounce? With an “of course we will”? That’s pretty good.

Thomsen said he thinks this is the first time SCL has gotten a citizen call about chickadees; if we can all pay attention to avian homebuilding on our blocks, maybe it won’t be the last. Little parents everywhere need your
helping hands.Bird in the hand - Trileigh Tucker

Blockwatch

Taking a break from working on a writing deadline, I loaded up my binoculars and camera and headed down my street toward the park. I didn’t make it farther than the end of the block.

Atop the light pole on the corner was a Northern Flicker, calling loudly to an unseen companion (who joined him later).

Northern Flicker with mate

Northern Flicker with mate

Then he made his way vertically down the pole, investigating various holes tiny and large.

Northern Flicker examining hole

Northern Flicker examining hole

Northern Flicker examining second hole

Northern Flicker exploring hole #3

Northern Flicker exploring hole #3

Let’s look at that last photo a little more closely:

Northern Flicker extends tongue into cavity

Northern Flicker extends tongue into cavity

Woodpecker tongues are really amazing. The structure supporting them wraps all the way around their heads, in some cases looping around their eyes.

https://i1.wp.com/www.sloshtheory.com/Anatomy/files/collage_lb_image_page4_0_1.png

Woodpecker bone and tongue structure. Click on link for source.

This gives most woodpeckers lots of tongue with which to explore tree cavities—and that means they have to spend less energy on excavation. Then when they encounter delicious bugs, their elegant barbed tongue is sticky enough to grab the bug and bring it back to where the woodpecker can enjoy his meal.

Tongue of Hairy Woodpecker. From "The Woodpeckers," by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm (1901)

Tongue of Hairy Woodpecker. From “The Woodpeckers,” by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm (1901)

But that’s not all we can learn by observing what’s happening on our block! Let’s go back to the flicker’s exploration of the second hole. Did you notice anyone else?

Black-capped Chickadees monitoring flicker

Black-capped Chickadees monitoring flicker

These two Black-capped Chickadees flew in together, at first scolding the flicker and then remaining silent as they watched him poke around in their prospective nest holes. They waited until he left, then went back in — maybe to assess what damage he might have done with that huge beak and strange-looking tongue?

Black-capped Chickadee checking out hole post-flicker

Black-capped Chickadee checks out possible nest hole after visit by flicker

Black-capped Chickadee explores possible nest hole after visit by flicker

Black-capped Chickadee explores second possible nest hole after visit by flicker

I haven’t seen the chickadees at these holes for the past couple of days; maybe they’ve decided to search for nest cavities on a less popular tree trunk.

*   *   *

This afternoon, lured by irresistible sunshine during this extraordinarily wet April, I headed back out towards the forest. Nope.

I’d heard frantic robin cheeping, so I figured a hawk was somewhere nearby. Another drama in our little corner of the city? Yes – but with different players. As I walked out the door, I turned away from the forest, toward the robin calls…just in time to see a crow fly off with a lovely blue egg in its beak.

Hope and tragedy, all in a few short days on one short city block.

What’s happening on your street?

P.S. – There’s a sequel to this story! Check the next post, “Blockwatch Success,” to see what happened.

Male American Robin

Male American Robin

Saving Place

The standing-room-only crowd erupted into applause. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting another form of outdoor entertainment, but it just needs to be in a different setting, where it won’t impact the birds,” the speaker had just said. She was an Audubon Master Birder who had just finished explaining the likely effects of a proposed set of ropes courses and ziplines on avian life. The loud cheers, whistles, clapping were for my birds, the birds of Lincoln Park.

Two hundred fifty people, applauding birds!

I’d entered the meeting room early to get my slides set up, so there were just a few people there, but the atmosphere was already electric. As more and more people poured in, their muted tones rose to high energy. Thirteen days ago, they’d discovered (courtesy of our local news source, the West Seattle Blog) that the city had been working for almost a year with a commercial ropes-course developer to propose taking over up to 10 acres of our local park to build an expensive, loud private operation, in exchange for a small percentage of the profit that would go back to the city. Our community wanted to know why, and they wanted to object.

We set up webpages (including Preserve Lincoln Park and a Facebook group page), emailed and wrote letters to our City Council, Parks officials, and others, organized to work on a draft mission statement and a draft petition. We talked with friends, neighbors, countrymen and -women. There’s a longer story here, which I’ll write later, but all of this brought us to last Tuesday’s community meeting, hosted by a well-organized and experienced neighborhood association.

After a few presentations, the meeting was opened up to comments from the community. Speaker after speaker argued passionately, some in tears, for the owls, for the eagles, for the foxes. For places that can be enjoyed by children now and future; for peaceful paths where the elderly in our neighborhood nursing home can relive childhoods spent in the same lovely space.

A community raised its voice for a quiet forest. And the next morning, city officials announced that we had been heard, and that there would be no ropes courses in our park. This time, quiet spoke louder than money.

* * * * *

The baby eagle fledged this morning! We’d been watching “Ricky” especially closely for the past week, knowing that fledging time was drawing near. The base of his nest tree is a redolent recycling center for fish parts, crow and gull wings, and the other detritus of three months of baby-feeding. He’s been up there flexing his wings, flap-hopping his way around his tree, squealing loudly much of the time; we haven’t been able to figure out if he’s saying “Hey Ma, lookit me!” or “Papa, I’m hungry!” or is simply exuberant with each new skill.

My partner Rob and I went for a lovely long hike yesterday, so I was on tenterhooks wondering if Ricky had fledged, but Melanie had texted me that he was still on his nest tree. So I hurried right out to the nest area after breakfast.

We saw one of the parent eagles, but not Ricky, although we could hear his piercing calls. It took a while for Rob, my musician partner whose ears are much better tuned than mine, to convince me that the baby-screeching was indeed coming not from the nest tree where Ricky had spent his entire twelve-week life so far, but from the next tree over. He’d made it!

Half of young eagles don’t make their first flight, ending up on the ground. In that case, their parents will keep feeding them as they work to build their wing strength, but it’s always better if they can get to the next tree. And there Ricky was near the top of his new lookout, looking alertly around, nibbling on fir cones, scratching his head.

Eaglet, pensive after initial fledging flight

We spent a long time admiring him. What must it be like to be in a brand-new tree, new vistas, new smells and perspectives? A bit later, he stretched his neck, then his wings, and launched himself into air a second time, making it perhaps 25 yards to yet another fir, where he stumbled a bit looking for firm footing, then started his proud squealing.

Eaglet taking off, fledging day

Then a third time: back to the nest tree—which meant that he could plan where he wanted to go and get there, and he wasn’t just landing on whichever tree was next closest.

Eaglet in mid-flight on fledging day

Eaglet on fledging day, landing smoothly (more or less)

Ricky has graduated into a new world: larger, more challenging, but with a new freedom and possibilities he can’t yet imagine.

* * * * *

This week has brought flight to both an eaglet and a new human community, formed around love of a place. We love our place, our neighborhood park, because of the eaglet and the Salish Sea and the forest that his existence implies, and for the eaglet and his future siblings, and nests, and prey, and the marvelous natural world that makes all that possible.

It makes us possible too. Thanks to a community of love, it looks like we’ll be able to pass along this quiet treasure to our shared future.

The Local Sacred Grove: A Trace of Transcendence

The cowboy-hatted stranger walked by me, huge dog panting by her side. I’d been looking around these towering, soft-barked sequoias for the barred owl I’d heard a few nights earlier. As she passed, she commented, “This is my favorite place in the park. It’s just special.”

For me, each season brings a new “special” part of the park, often one I’d overlooked before: the snag where the rufous hummingbird royally surveyed his territory last spring, the dark path that ran by the summer’s hawk nest, the little clearing with all the berries so loved by the late-season warblers.

Still, I knew what she meant. You come into this section of the park from the adjacent field, and there’s a kind of hush and a delicate deep-golden light you don’t find elsewhere. I want to remove my hat. I tell myself it’s so that I can hear better without the hat’s brim—the forest floor here has only sparse undergrowth and is deeply cushioned by a thick soft duff of conifer needles that seem to absorb faint bird sounds. And yes, it’s particularly dark in there, yet there are other forest trails equally shaded that don’t make me feel the same way.

The other day a second stranger, a tall, angular man this time, volunteered a similar comment about how he particularly loved this bit of forest trail. I began to really wonder just what it is about this particular place that evokes that sense of specialness.

Is it the cathedral shape of the tall trees with open space beneath? I think the evocation actually probably goes the other way: that cathedrals were designed to feel like forests rather than forests looking like churches. (Perhaps we should call them catreedrals instead.)

Sevilla cathedral, Spain. Attribution: By Pom² (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

The Local Sacred Grove

Maybe it’s that special light filtering through the dusty air in the reflected auburn glow of the carpet of needles. Or perhaps it’s the silent echo of the owl’s presence in this favorite haunt, the tiny invisible swirls of air stirred ever so slightly by those fringed feathers that let him swoop silently down on rodent prey. 

Fringed trailing edge of Barred Owl wing feather

If a butterfly’s wing-flap in Brazil can trigger a tornado in Texas, might not an owl’s eddies leave something ethereal, a trace of transcendence in their wake?

So many of us are drawn to nature for spiritual sustenance. Is it an intimacy with something greater than ourselves; wonder at the breathtaking complexity of the ancient earth; a sense of perspective that we humans are only a small part of it?

Whatever its wellspring, nature’s enchantment seems to be a pretty fundamental part of who we are. People of different cultures throughout the world have a sense of sacred groves. When we walk quietly through our own local sacred grove, attuned and aware and alive, we honor not only that special place, but also the sacred part of ourselves—and of human nature.

Sequoia trees

Where’s your sacred grove?

Nourishing Nature: Who are parks for?

It was a sweet morning scene: parent-child pairs of crows foraging on the freshly dewed ballfield. The youngsters, even two whole months after fledging, were following their parents, pleading with their baby voices to please be fed.

Young crow begging from parent, who has captured a bee

Suddenly the crow voices changed to loud squawks, and I turned to see a young Cooper’s Hawk fluttering among the crows. The Coop flew back to a nearby tree, and the young and grownup crows went back to feeding. A few minutes later, squawk! as the Coop dove again towards a young crow, talons extended. The target flapped out of reach and again the Coop retreated.

It was a young hawk, unbanded, perhaps one from the nest I was following this spring and summer.

Young Cooper's Hawk in fir, watching prey

To my eye, crows look just as big as Cooper’s Hawks, and they’re remarkably intelligent and feisty to boot, so I was pretty surprised to see this hawk continue to try to pounce on them. But the Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that Coops actually prefer medium over small birds; maybe the potential nourishment available from small birds isn’t worth the trouble?

A squirrel was foraging nearby, but since I’d heard that Coops feed almost entirely on birds, so at least here was one critter I didn’t have to worry about.

Until now.

A flurry of brown wings at ground level, and I held my breath.

Cooper's Hawk attacks squirrel

In a couple of moments I could see the squirrel nonchalantly poking at the ground a couple of feet away from the hawk, apparently not only unscathed but barely bothered by the Coop’s attack. After trying once more, the hawk gave up and returned to crow hunting. The parent crows finally got tired of her harassment and began to pursue her, and finally she left without catching any breakfast.

Young Cooper's Hawk sneaks up on unsuspecting parent-child crow pair

Young Cooper's Hawk and crow face off

Young Cooper's Hawk and crow fighting

(You can see more photos of the Coop and crows on my Flickr site.)

Was this young bird particularly hungry, going after the difficult prey of crows and squirrel in desperation? Is there enough nourishment in this urban place to sustain fledglings?

Lincoln Park comprises 135 acres of mixed forest and meadows, along with a mile of shoreline. It’s apparently enough habitat to provide steady support to the nesting Cooper’s Hawk pair, along with a pair each of nesting Barred Owls and Bald Eagles, and millions of other creatures that fly and flitter and forage here.

But this urban green space also provides nourishment to the thousands of humans in its vicinity. Human nestlings and fledglings, as well as the adults of the species, need convenient green areas—parks, playgrounds, greenbelts—for play and peace. We’re nourished by natural spaces in ways that are critical not only to our physical health, but our psychological health as well. If we’re going to sustain ourselves psychologically, particularly in urban settings, we need nearby nature.

My city’s Parks and Recreation department has created a “gap map” of open spaces throughout the city, in which neighborhoods are characterized by how close they are to a public open space, and which areas are in need of increased access to green spaces:

Seattle Open Spaces Gap Map-2009 (click on the map for a larger image on the city's official website)

Proximity of urban natural areas is an environmental justice issue. One of my students conducted an important research project assessing the distribution of playgrounds among neighborhoods of different income levels in my city, and found that the average density of parks in the highest-income areas was more than triple the average number in the lowest-income areas.

People struggling financially may need local natural places even more than those who are more comfortable. Yes, my city is between three of our country’s most glorious national parks—

Seattle's regional setting

—but getting to those requires a significant effort in time and transportation, commodities not plentiful to everyone, humans or other. We need everyday parks for everyday nourishment.

If you live in Seattle, how close is the nearest green space beyond your yard? Does it provide enough nature to nourish your human and nonhuman neighbors? If you live elsewhere, how good a job does your city do at providing these places that are critical for both humans and the more-than-human world?

Young Cooper's Hawk flies off in search of better hunting grounds

Awakened by the god in favor of drums: An ode to jay

“I’m sure there’s a god in favor of drums,” writes Pattiann Rogers. That god had a hard time getting my attention on Monday morning (surely a hard time for all gods in that endeavor), when I was wandering around my woods disappointed to have had no sign of my beloved young hawks.

I was so attuned to hawk-shaped spaces that it took me a while to even notice the quiet rhythm at the edge of the trail. When the sound finally pierced my hawky haze, I thought that, well, at least I might get to see a Hairy Woodpecker even though I missed my young accipiter friends. But all I saw in that area of the forest were a couple of Steller’s Jays, so I moved on.

I arrived at the hawks’ favorite hangout at the convergence of three trails, where they sometimes perched on a tall snag above the grassy area where I was standing, near some beaked hazelnut shrubs. No hawks. But again I heard the tap-tap-tapping, and was surprised that I would have chanced to hear a second Hairy Woodpecker in a single morning, when often I don’t encounter any for several weeks.

A Steller’s Jay landed in the hazelnut shrub, apparently a young bird because it seemed to be having a hard time landing properly, flopping around for several moments. I figured it must have given up when it flew off to a wide, strong branch low on a nearby Doug Fir.

Then I heard that now-familiar light pounding from the jay’s direction. Sure enough, there it was hammering away on the branch.

Funny how long it can take, while you’re busy pursuing your agenda, to realize that the real story is somewhere else entirely.

Having finally been awakened by the god in favor of drums, I watched more closely as several jays flopped around in the shrub, their lovely blue feathers glowing among its bright green hazelnut leaves. I followed one with my binoculars as it flew up to a tree, and saw it hammering the hazelnut seed until the prickly cover came off. It then swallowed the nut whole.

Steller's Jay extracting Beaked Hazelnut

Steller's Jay swallowing Beaked Hazelnut whole

In making my quick assumptions about the jays’ behavior, I hadn’t been giving them due credit: what I thought was an inexperienced young jay landing unsuccessfully was actually a show of remarkable acrobatic expertise. Paying better attention, I saw that the jays were managing to land on the flimsy twigs that supported those luscious hazelnuts, and while precariously hanging on (often upside down), they were able to wrestle the nut’s twig until it broke off.

Steller's Jay pouncing on Beaked Hazelnut stem

Steller's Jay, one foot holding down the beaked hazelnut stem while he tries to break the stem with his beak

They then had to extricate themselves from the shrub without losing the nut, and fly with it to a stable nutcracking platform. All this intricate maneuvering going on around me, unappreciated, while I kept looking for something that wasn’t there.

How many other aspects of my life fit that description, I wonder? How many marvels go unnoticed, how many stunning beauties shimmer in secret places I’ve overlooked? Sometimes I think that my own “work of loving the world” takes the particular form of exulting in the exquisite quotidan beauty that helps to unweave my web of ego.

It’s hard work, this vocation of appreciation; it takes minute-by-minute mindfulness and openheartedness in an age of distraction and destruction. You have to maintain a delicate equilibrium, staying aware of our environmental crisis while feeding your hope with beauty, and I’m not as good as my jays are at the acrobatics of hanging onto thin twisting twigs while reaching for that precious nut. But it’s my only alternative to despair, and I have to believe it’s well worth the work.

Jay's efforts rewarded

Hawk Ballet: Practicing Preying

Imagine you’re a young hawk who just can’t wait to launch out on her own for the first time. Your attentive mother, with help from your father, has been feeding you your whole life: bringing you breakfast in bed, then converting your bedroom to the dining room once you hopped out of the nest to nearby branches. When she lands on the nest with food, you and your siblings run chattering to the dinner table.

But now you’d rather not wait for mother’s home delivery service. You’d sure like to be able to eat when you’re hungry rather than waiting for her! But how on earth do you figure out how to nab those goodies–small birds–yourself? You have to practice: practice flying to the prey, practice nabbing it, and practice taking it back up to somewhere you can eat it in peace.

So now that you’re in hawk-mind, imagine: what could you possibly find in the forest to use as a small-bird-like toy to practice with?

 

….

 

A pine cone, of course!

Just about the right size for a young bird’s talons – check. Placid and therefore easy to nab – check. Grippable in flight – check.

Easy to land with? Not so much. Especially when you’re a little wobbly on the landing part anyway, even without a carryon. Here’s the young Cooper’s Hawk trying to get her balance as she lands with her cone:

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk ries to get her footing while landing with pine cone

And examining her prize:

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk examines her pine cone prize

Of course, if you’re all grown up and you catch your prey in one place and decide to eat it somewhere else, you’ve got to know how to keep hold of it while pivoting on the other foot to get the best takeoff angle; here’s our young hawk practicing that difficult maneuver.

First, she rises up from the branch:

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk starts to take off with cone

Then she flaps, rotating on her left foot while she holds the cone in her right foot:

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk rotates on left foot while holding cone in right

Then she settles briefly down while still holding the cone in her right foot.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk completes rotation while holding cone in right foot

A moment later she took off through the trees, pine cone presumably still in her talons.

Two days later I saw one of the young Coops with what sure looks like actual prey.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk with first prey?

Practice-preying pine cones pays off…for the preyer if not the preyee.

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!