Monday, August 8, 2011

History of a Red-tailed Hawk family -- Part 1

In my recent post, Wildlife at home -- 30 minutes of clickity click, I mentioned a a Red-tailed Hawk family.  And since I plan to write a new post about their family life this summer, I decided to summarize in Part 1 first their history as we have observed it from 2008 through 2010.

To begin, I need to describe the location.  A very small tidal creek separates our back and side yards from the graveyard of an old church on the right and a middle school on the left.  Thankfully, a decent buffer of myrtle, vines, live oaks and pines obscures most of the view into the playground as well as the church and school buildings for us and provides very nice cover and habitat for many birds and other critters.  The Red-tailed Hawks, on the other hand, seem to appreciate more the schoolyard as this is where they decided to build their nest -- high in a pine above the front school yard!  But I am getting a little ahead of myself as I was unaware of any nest when I first noticed the Big Banded Girl in March 2008 hunting one weekend in the empty school yard.  I say this was a female due to her size:  female raptors are generally larger than their male counterparts and this may be the biggest Red-tailed I have ever seen. 

Red-tailed Hawk with prey -- photo taken from our back deck -- March 2008

A formidable hunter she must have been as we noticed that summer that our Mama Mallards' broods of ducklings were decreasing in number as the chicks grew in size.  I did not first notice her band until later that summer when I spied her staking out a duck family from the churchyard.  And I do not know if, at that time, she had a mate and nest as we were just beginning to observe her regularly.

Big Banded Girl hunting ducks -- April 2008

Big Banded Girl flying from the church roof -- April 2008

 Why would she be banded?  Well, she is most likely a bird that was treated by and released from the local raptor center, The Avian Conservation Center and the Center for Birds of Prey,  just north of Charleston.

Fast forward to May 2009:  In the mornings from my deck where I fill the bird feeders before leaving for work, I began noticing on a regular basis a rather constant loud, distressed-sounding, squeaky, shrill call from the same location each morning.  Then, one morning in June (I was now on summer break from my teaching post in the local high school), I was preparing to take my morning walk and it seemed that the loud, shrill, shriek-y call was coming from a different location.  It sounded as though it were closer.  So I gathered up my camera and binocular and decided to see if I could find the perpetrator.  This led me to the school yard and there I saw the Red-tailed Hawk fledgling in a pine!

Red-tailed Hawk fledgling -- in the schoolyard --  June 17, 2009
Red-tailed Hawk fledgling -- James Island Middle School schoolyard -- June 17, 2009

 He was a beauty,  and a noisy one.  That morning he was particularly so as he was out of his element on his new perch away from his nest.  At that time, I did not know where his nest was but after searching the tree, I was sure that it was not in that tree and that this was most likely his first foray away from the nest.  As I followed the youngster's distressed gaze, I found the calm parents watching from the satellite dish high above the school.

Red-tailed Hawk parents watching over fledgling from above the middle school -- June 17, 2009

Although the band is not visible, I believe that is Big Banded Girl on the right in the above photo.  As June progressed, the youngster grew in physical strength and confidence and began to expand his small circle.   His cries continued regularly, until I noticed that when something caught his attention, he would stop.  I finally came to accept that, if the parents observing from their favorite perch high above the school were not too concerned about his cries, then neither should I be.  Over the summer days I was delighted to find that his cries allowed me to locate and observe him regularly. Three days after his fledging day, he made his way into my yard!  That summer he tended to visit both the graveyard behind the house and the yard fairly regularly.

Red-tailed Hawk fledgling in my yard -- June 20, 2009

 I say "he" but in reality, I do not know if this fledgling was a male or a female.  Eventually over the months, as the young bird gained independence, we heard and saw him less. 

May 2010:  Once again, I began to hear the now familiar cries of a Red-tailed Hawk chick from my deck.   One afternoon, I heard the scream of an adult in my own yard.  I looked out of the window and found this adult with a freshly-killed squirrel screaming back at the blue jays and mockingbirds that were harassing him.  He stayed only momentarily and then flew towards the graveyard and school yard with his prey.

Red-tailed Hawk adult in my yard with fresh kill before he took it to his nest -- May 5, 2010

June 2010:  Once again on my summer break, I had time to walk in the mornings and to attempt tracing the young bird's calls to a nest.  I was pretty certain that this chick was still in a nest since his cries seemed to come from one place.  Sure enough, the very noisy chick gave away his location and he was indeed on a nest high in a pine in front of the school. 

Red-tailed Hawk nestling -- June 5, 2010

I routed my morning walk by the school so that I could observe the youngster in the nest.  I noted on those summer mornings that only one adult was present.  It soon became evident that this chick did indeed have just one parent.  And it appeared that Big Banded Girl was the one who was missing as this parent was small and had no band.  I was saddened that the bold and beautiful female had likely perished -- how I do not know.

On the morning of June 12, Carl and I heard the youngster calling and we recognized immediately that he had to be much closer than his nest.  So with cameras in hand, we set out towards his cries and found him very close to the house in the graveyard!

An uncertain fledgling -- 1st day out of nest -- churchyard -- June 12, 2010

So you may have been wondering just what the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk chick sounds like.  Well Carl recorded this guy and you can see his video and hear the incessant cry here.


Red-tailed Hawk fledgling -- churchyard -- June 12, 2010 -- fledging day!

I confess that you will see several photos of this guy as he became my favorite.  Young juvenile birds are just plain goofy.  They are also curious creatures who have a great deal to learn.  For example, they are still learning such skills as balance and identification of branches that can hold your weight versus those that will not.  The photos A-D below illustrate how this young guy began to learn this in my yard the next day.

In the yard -- learning where to perch and where not to (photo A) -- June 13, 2010

Learning where to perch and where not to (photo B) -- June 13, 2010

Learning where to perch and where not to (photo C) -- June 13, 2010
Red-tailed Hawk fledgling -- learning where not to perch  (photo D)-- June 13, 2010

Beautiful Fledgling comes to visit in the yard again -- June 21, 2010
The blue jays and mockingbirds in my yard did not appreciate his visits -- June 21, 2010

Exploring the graveyard -- June 21, 2010

Exploring the graveyard -- June 21, 2010

This young bird seemed to be as curious about me as I was about him and allowed me to come fairly close.  The photos below show our interaction just before I left to go to France for a month.

Goofy bird visiting in yard -- July 2, 2010
Still goofy -- July 2, 2010

What a funny bird!  He was still calling when I returned from France but his circle of familiar territory had increased significantly and I saw him less though I heard him often!

Since he was raised by a single dad, I imagined that perhaps there would be no more Red-tailed Hawk babies to enjoy watching in the Summer of 2011.  It turns out that I was wrong.  Dad found a new mate!  History of the Red-tailed Hawk family to continue in Part 2 (to be posted soon).

1 comment:

  1. I love the ones with his head upside down, so cute!