|Parent Red-tailed Hawks in favorite perch tree -- June 17, 2011|
I could still hear a youngster crying so I headed towards the nest tree in front of the school. At this time of day, the nest is back-lit and deciphering details is difficult. I looked up to see a young bird in the nest and, at the same time, another hawk flew into the nest. At first, I thought it was one of the adults. But, both birds had the voice of a youngster. I looked back at the perch tree and saw that both parents were indeed still there. This meant that both birds in the nest tree were youngsters! We had 2 this year!!!
|Two young Red-tailed Hawks on/at the nest -- June 17, 2011|
Obviously, at least one had fledged since it had flown right over my head to return to the nest tree. I wondered if both had fledged. When I listened from the deck the next morning, I could now distinguish that there were indeed 2 voices coming from different directions. And when I walked to the school, I found one youngster still in the nest and the other in another tree in the school yard. This was the case for several more days. I was surprised by the time difference in their fledging dates. Finally, on June 21, I walked to the school yard, found the parents on the antenna and the noisy first fledged in a pine in the back of the school yard.
|Parent Red-tailed Hawks watching over chicks -- June 21, 2011|
|First Fledged in pine in back of school yard -- June 21, 2011|
Suddenly, one of the parents voiced loudly at his/her mate and flew off to the cross on top of the church steeple across the street. There he was mobbed by crows who appeared to be on a suicide mission as they dropped from above to attack the hawk and to potentially impale themselves (as fate might have it) on the church cross' lighting rod.
|Red-tailed Hawk parent mobbed by American Crows -- June 21, 2011|
After being harassed for a bit, the parent returned to his mate on the antenna. They had a conversation in that loud Red-tailed fashion, and then they both flew off towards the marshes bordering the harbor, presumably to hunt. Then, hearing the cries of the second youngster from in front of the school, I walked there to see if he had finally left the nest. His cries were indeed closer than the nest tree and I found him in the oak -- he had fledged -- 4 days after his sibling!
|2nd Fledged Red-tailed Hawk on first sortie from the nest -- June 21, 2011|
Like all newly fledged chicks, he was very clumsy and often unbalanced as he moved about the unfamiliar tree. He did not seem bothered by me below him. After all, he had grown up in a nest above a busy school yard and was used to watching humans below.
|2nd Fledged Red-tailed Hawk chick learning to balance -- June 21, 2011|
|2nd Fledged Red-tailed Hawk learning to move about branches in an unfamiliar tree -- June 21, 2011|
At one point, as I watched him moving about the branches, he crouched down to leap to a branch higher up and ...
|2nd Fledged crouching down for that fateful leap ....|
he missed, and began falling towards me! I ducked, he flapped to get some rise as he headed out over the school driveway. But, he could not get enough rise to make the roof of the building and he dropped to the sidewalk!
|2nd Fledged just after dropping to the sidewalk of the school -- definitely new territory -- June 21, 2011|
|2nd Fledgling considering the roof -- his intended destination -- June 21, 2011|
|2nd Fledgling digging through the moist soil under an air conditioning unit|
|2nd Fledgling -- seeming to enjoy the cool benefits provided by the condensate from the air conditionner|
|1st Fledged returned to the front of the school yard -- June 21, 2011|
|1st Fledged returned to the nest tree -- June 21, 2011|
After photographing 1st Fledged, I returned to the shrubs next to the building to see what 2nd Fledged was doing. He was now under the portico of the school looking much like a child waiting for a parent to come pick him up. So I sat down on the sidewalk next to the drive to see what he would do next.
|2nd Fledged under the portico of the school|
|2nd Fledged -- one stylin' dude! -- June 21, 2011|
And finally, after hearing his sibling call, he spoke again.
|2nd Fledged calling back to his sibling -- June 21, 2011|
This goofy child was fearless. He simply did not know any better than to trot over to me and stand right next to me. I could have touched him. He was too close for the camera focusing range. Then he decided to head back across the school drive, back to the front schoolyard. As I watched him running across flapping and leaping, I soon realized that this guy was not really strong enough yet to fly. He had no lift! Perhaps he could jump from one low branch to another and glide from one tree to another. But he certainly did not have enough lift to to reach any of the high branches of the trees in the front of the school -- not from the ground!
|2nd Fledged attempting to go airborne -- June 21, 2011|
Now I was beginning to be concerned. The front schoolyard is a fairly narrow area. On one side is the drive next to the school and on the other, a very busy two-lane road. I decided to stand between him and the road in case he decided to go in that direction. Sure enough, he moved closer and closer to the road. When he was about 15 feet from the road I decided to chase him back towards the school drive. Initially, he did not budge. He did not comprehend that I was something to fear. I had become his buddy this morning, watching and following him with my camera. By clapping, yelling and waving my arms, he finally did run in the other direction. He stopped at the edge of some bushes and looked back at me with what appeared to be a dumbfounded and uncertain look. (much like you will see in the very last photo in this post --- but no scrolling to the bottom !).
I did not trust this silly bird not to wander back towards and potentially into the road. So I went inside the school to attempt to retrieve the phone number to The Avian Conservation Center and the Center for Birds of Prey to see if I could call for some more expert help. When I phoned and explained the situation of this newly fledged hawk, the person at the center acknowledged that it was common enough that young hawks, when they first fledge do not have much lift because they are still learning to fly and are still building strength. After ascertaining from me that he still had parents to care for him (that they had not been injured or killed), she then said that I could help him out by simply picking him up and putting him on some low, but sturdy tree branch. Now it was my turn to be dumbfounded. I asked incredulously, "Pick him up?! He has big, sharp talons!" "Sure, it will be OK." Well, I have seen experts handle big raptors and they all wore thick leather gloves which I did not have. I replied that I was not really comfortable picking up this bird with his big sharp talons. And I also suspected it would not be easy catching the fellow now that I had chased him, scared him and changed the dynamic of our relationship. And then there was the question of where to put him. From what I had observed in the school yard, all of the trees' lowest branches were much higher than I could reach. This is pretty normal for a school yard since low branches are enticing jungle gyms for young girls and boys. Finally, the person on the line, offered to try to locate one of their volunteers to come help. Phew!
Within 10 minutes, a gentleman arrived and identified himself as the volunteer from the center. He asked me several questions about the bird's parents, where they were and where the nest was. I also pointed out the sibling on her perch watching us and 2nd Fledged as he wandered about now in the school side yard --- far from the road, thankfully. It took the volunteer no time at all to catch the wayward child -- which concerned him. So he gave our young bird a physical.
|2nd Fledged and volunteer from the Center for Birds of Prey checking his feathers|
|2nd Fledged -- physical exam continued-- checking muscle tone|
|2nd Fledged being carried to a perch|
So at this point, we began looking for an appropriate tree. We knew he would be safer in the back of the school away from the roadway. But this bird had not ever been in the back of the school and as he was dazed by this too-close-for-comfort human interaction, it did not seem wise to take him out of familiar territory. We did find one tree with sturdy branches low enough for us to reach and tall enough overall so that the bird could climb much higher, and then perhaps fly over to the branches of the taller trees to eventually reach his safe nest tree. And we were also within sight of his sibling, who was still quietly watching from her own "safe" perch.
|2nd Fledged back in a tree!|
Poor guy, he was indeed frightened now, and initially, he did not grasp the branch. And then, he did! I was relieved to see him back in the tree. Eventually, he began moving slowly and cautiously back up into higher branches. And a little while after that, he began his shrill, shriek-y call again. We knew that he might still end as road kill if he dropped back to the ground again before he learned to fly. But we were satisfied to know that he was not going to be road kill that morning.
For the next few weeks, I could often hear both youngsters calling from different areas and I was satisfied to know that they both have survived. Yet I have rarely seen them this summer since that fateful day as they tended to wander in other directions from our house than the previous 2 fledglings of 2009 and 2010. So, unfortunately for me, they never became regular visitors to my yard.
So there's the saga of 2nd Fledged's memorable first day out of the nest tree! What an experience to be able to witness and record this family's history. It is mid-August now and I am wondering how it will evolve in May and June of 2012. Check the blog for History of a Red-tailed Hawk Family -- Part 3, due to be posted next summer!