Urban Red Tailed Hawks

Rather than having 15 separate posts on the red tailed hawk nest in our backyard, I have put a photo log here for those who are interested. The parent birds arrived in February and March.


The nest itself is in the damaged crown of a blue spruce. They began building it in 2016, but didn’t use it last year. This year, in March and April they added to it and began sitting by about the first of May.DSC02537


The eggs hatched around the 10th of May, three equal chicks, no runt.DSC02860


A family of crows, nesting two blocks away, harassed the hawks many times each day, making life miserable at times.



The chicks grew remarkably fast, crowding the nest and creating a huge demand for food.DSC02930

At first, the parent birds tore food up, offering each ragged piece of meat to one or another of the chick. But soon the chicks learned to tear up the food themselves.DSC03058


And by the 15th of June, they were branchers, testing their wings against wind, but not daring to leave the nest.DSC03117



For a time, the birds remained in the nest tree, gradually moving farther out on the branches.DSC03205

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And by the 28th of June, they dispersed to the nearby deciduous trees. In the following photo, the mother bird is on the left, watching over the three awkward juveniles. The male parent was long gone, but the mother still brought food in for the young. Her call, the quintessential cry of a hawk that you hear in movies, brought the young birds to the squirrel, rabbit, pocket gopher, or rat that she carried in. They were left to eat it by themselves. The juveniles cried often, apparently signalling that they were hungry.DSC03342

This is a juvenile, still completely clueless about hunting, eating mom’s find.DSC03360


By the 5th of July, the young birds, still unable to hunt, walked around the neighbor’s yard, apparently hoping to find a dead mouse. In once case a bird studied a lawn sprinkler for a long time, finally dropping to a fence, and then to the sprinkler to get a bath.DSC03425

After bathing for a few minutes, it spread its wings to dry in the sun.



And for a couple more weeks, the young still waited in the nearby trees for the mother bird to bring in food.DSC03458

Occasionally an argument broke out between the hawks and the finches, who gave them a piece of their mind.DSC03465


After heavy rains, the juveniles did a lot of fluffing and basking with their wings open to dry out, then preened at great length to get cleaned up.DSC03313

At this point, the easy way to tell the young from the adults is by the speckled belly (from the front) and the red tail (from the back).Screen Shot 2017-07-15 at 11.49.17 AM.png

During the first week of July, the young made longer flights, trying to follow the mother bird. And then, on about the 10th of July, they all disappeared. They left behind two primary wing feathers, which we took as mementos of the wonderful lesson in urban raptors.DSC03294


Author: Samuel A. Johnson

This blog is about hiking, thinking, and writing.

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