Featured

Quebec City…I love you!

This is the post excerpt.

2019 seemed to pass with the blink of an eye.  In late October I was with a very good friend speaking at the UAAC Conference in Quebec City.  Six weeks later I returned to that gorgeous historic city.  Could I live there when I retire?  Yes, at least part of the year!  And I will be retiring on 31 August 2020.
JA Moisan is the oldest grocery store in North America.  It was founded in 1871.  They have a bakery, a deli, a place for packaged meals to take home, a wall of speciality salts, olive oils, vinegar, Kusmi teas, coffees, candies – you name it!  There is cheese, fresh fruit, and the best croissants in the city.  There is seating for about ten persons.  Stop and rest your feet – have a latte and a croissant or the daily special.  Take home some chocolate.  The interior is the same as it was in the 1920s and 30s.  Soak it in.
Want to be pampered?  After the beginning of November, the Chateau Frontenac has specials.  The hotel is located in the Old City right at the top by the funicular.  Beginning at the end of November to the third week in December, the German market with all of its little wooden stalls stretches from the Frontenac down through this historic part of the City.  The best fish and chips are at either of the pubs on the main drag as you enter the Old City on St. Jean.  One serves Murphy’s while the other serves Guinness – Murphy’s for the Irish, Guinness for the British with a hallway between them linking the two together.  As you wander down the street there is a lovely bookshop with stationary and a good English section as well as a fine cashmere store.  One of the problems for me was that there were just too many ‘tourist shops’ with any and all things made in China as a souvenir for Quebec City.  You see them everywhere!  Sometimes it is difficult to find nice local shops in the middle of all that.
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Every year the Frontenac has a Christmas tree competition.  They were magical!

And there is always a gingerbread house made like the hotel:

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COVID-19 will have, by the time I update this posting, halted the plans of many.  I look forward to a return to Quebec City.  It has a vibe that is missing where I live.  A truly remarkable “European City” in Quebec, Canada.

Protecting birds by simple changes in our lives can make a huge difference.

For the past week I have been posting information on how we can all join in and make our environment friendlier to birds. The tips and the ongoing discussion with my chatters on the Cornell RTH FB page have been enriching. Those posts were a way of remembering J1, the eldest chick of Big Red and Arthur, who died a week ago today after what is believed to be a window strike at Weill Hall. J1 was a super large very maternal bird who could be hawk-fierce when required or a gentle goof pulling the tail feathers of her brothers if they sat on a bar above her. She loved playing soccer with pinecones and taking baths in the puddles after a hot day in Ithaca. Her birth brought joy to all and as she grew most recognized that she would be a gentle but firm mother like Big Red. Because of COVID-19 and the escalating deaths and subsequent civil unrest, her death sparked a deep sense of loss not only within her hawk family but also with the BOGs in Ithaca and those who love this family around the world. Big Red and Arthur led the two remaining chicks away from Tower Road and the business of the campus near Bradfield and Weill out to Holey Cow. Just looking it appears that the distance is around a mile but I could be all wrong. The area is rural farmyard territory as opposed to urban with its buildings, streets, and cars. And the parents have kept them near the barns with the cows and sheep and the fields where Big Red’s mate, Ezra, used to hunt. One evening all four took part in a team hunting event. Big Red from one side of the pine tree and Arthur on the other would fly into the tree chasing a squirrel down for the two juveniles to hunt it. The move has caused the chicks to slow way down and stop random flying stunts between buildings. You say, “Did Big Red and Arthur know that J1 had died?” My answer to you is “Of course, they knew.” Would they have wished that Cornell University would have earlier installed window reflective glass on their buildings? Absolutely. And so, that is why I am writing to you tonight. To introduce you to ways that you can help birds in your own neighborhood.

Most of you will know some of these points but you might have forgotten or maybe you didn’t know. I certainly didn’t know all of them and tonight I find that I am still learning. So here goes:

  1. Make all of your windows bird friendly by installing strips on the outside so there is no bird strike. Check your local wildlife or nature centre. They often have this available in their shop.
  2. Speaking of windows. Governments in Australia have announced that all buildings will now be required to use reflective glass. It is estimated that 1 million birds die from window strikes annually. Supporters of the new reflective glass windows believe that they can save 90% of the birds with this new measure. Write to anyone in your community who will listen!
  3. Bird-friendly coffee. Almost everyone reading this blog will drink some kind of coffee a day. But, as I have learned recently, not all coffee is the same. There are now many organic beans and blends as well as fair trade coffees but if you want to be the most environmentally friendly with your cup of java, then you must find bird friendly coffee. And this is not easy! The Smithsonian must certify the coffee to be grown under shade so that the forests are not cleared to qualify beyond being organic and fair trade. So look for the labelling and ask your local roaster to get beans brought in for you or you can order on line.
  4. Water. The summers are getting warmer. The heat impacts all of us. One simple way to help the birds is to put out bowls of water so that they have a fresh drink and a place to have a bath and cool off. You don’t need to go down and buy a fancy bird bath. Readers of my postings have suggested checking your local thrift store for bowls or even bird baths. Many use the dishes that go under pots. One even suggested the plastic liners for paint trays (new, of course). Since I work with clay, we have an array of shallow bowls outside and every day around 4pm the little song birds line up for a drink and a splash. One day the largest of our local Grackle community decided to have a bath. It was sweet.
  5. Cats. Cats are one of the most prominent dangers to birds. Where I live it is illegal to let your cats outside. But in many parts of the world this is not the case.
  6. Herbicides and pesticides. One major birdseed company in the US (who also supplied herbicides and pesticides for gardens and lawns) was discovered to have poison seed in their product several years ago. Make sure you know where your birdseed comes from BUT also let your garden be natural. All of the treatments for lawns are very dangerous to animals.
  7. Mouse and rat poison. Rodenticide. Do not use poisons to trap mice and rats. They mice and rats eat the poison, get sluggish, and are easy for the raptors to catch. Then they die. It has been clearly proven that raptors are much better at keeping down the rat population than poisons. Tell anyone you know not to use these products that stop the blood from coagulating. In fact, cats can also die if they eat a poisoned mouse or rat.
  8. Plant a tree. During this very chaotic spring, people have been seeking calm. Trees and gardens offer places for peaceful contemplation. They also help the biosphere. So instead of paving your patio, consider creating a rustic treed space that is bird friendly instead.
  9. Slow down. When you drive slow down. It will cause less deaths from window strike.
  10. You might want to keep gear in your vehicle to help with injured birds. This can include but is not limited to gloves, a secure cage, and soft blanket. Know the contact numbers for your local wildlife rehabilitation centre.

These are not the only ways but they are a beginning. You might want to think about ordering the book that was recommended to me today. It is Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard.

Wayne Ngan 1937-2020

I first met Wayne Ngan in 1987 when I was the Director of the then ‘being built’ University College-UMSU Gallery at the University of Manitoba. Ngan was to be the first artist exhibited at the new student gallery designed for University College. Sadly, funding became tight and the new gallery was abruptly brought to an end. It was twenty-eight years later, during the summer of 2015, that I met him again at his home and studio on Hornby Island. I had come to see the drawings and talk to Wayne about the Sung Dynasty wood kiln he had built and also to take some photographs for another ceramics exhibition at the School of Art Gallery for that fall. Wayne’s passion and creativity filled him with joy. His eyes sparkled with energy as he talked about each one of his special pieces. He was, at the time, preparing for his first big exhibition in New York City at the Natalie Karg Gallery opening in a couple of months on 15 September. We were grateful for his humour and for the generous sharing of his time. His peaceful passing on June 12 at his home on Hornby Island from lymphoma was, thus, received with sadness.

Some of the prize pieces that Ngan set aside for his own collection from his firings over the decades.

Wayne Ngan was born in 1937 in Kwantung, PRC. He is one of Canada’s most celebrated ceramic artists working in what many have identified as the West Coast-Asian fusion tradition. In 1983 Wayne was awarded the prestigious Saidye Bronfman Award for Excellence in Crafts and in 2013 he received British Columbia’s Creative Achievement Award of Distinction. He is also the recipient of the Governor Generals Commemorative Medal.

Many potters state that one of their first memories of working with clay was as a youngster. Wayne Ngan is no exception. The celebrated artist remembers that as a child he dug clay with his own hands creating objects to amuse him while his mother worked in the rice paddies. At the age of fourteen, he immigrated to Vancouver with his grandfather. Some years later he briefly studied at the Vancouver College of Art before leaving the city to build a home and studio on Hornby Island in 1967. Over the years he traveled to China and Japan studying ancient ceramics and the secrets of wood firing kilns. Back in his studio he repeatedly threw the shapes he admired until he had perfected them. His goal then, as now, is to create pure shapes with minimal decoration based on those from the Sung Dynasty and the Yi of Korea that are alive.

The materials and the kiln that Wayne uses are of utmost importance to his work. The artist states that together they give life and purity to his vessels. Wayne is able to source all of his materials from Hornby Island except for the clay; it is simply unavailable. As a result, he mixes other ingredients with commercial clay bodies. He makes all of his own tools testing them over and over again until he feels comfortable using them.

I am looking for life…Like ashes are very good materials for glazes. But the glaze on a pot is only a coat; the beauty that’s behind is the clay body, like a soul in a person. Sometimes the person who makes the pot is also a contributing factor. And the fire too. If you have an electric kiln it only radiates fire; it is not live fire. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, what comes out..is artificial. The kiln is like a womb, like a mother. (Quoted in Judy Thompson Ross, Down to Earth.  Canadian Potters at Work, 12-15).

For five decades, this talented artist produced his signature stoneware vases with hakame decoration as well as temmoku glazed vessels, raku, and, for a period, wood fired salt glazed ware. It was on Hornby that Wayne declared that nature informs the ‘alchemy’ of his work.

Working with clay is, I think, part of my nature. It is easy, the most flexible medium I can imagine. Through clay I can touch all four basic elements: earth, water, fire and all, and bring those four elements back to life. (Thompson, 12).

Feathers and Preening

You have probably never thought much about feathers unless you raise chickens and wind up plucking them yourself. Or your duvet is full of down and feathers and you find them all over the place if there is a small hole. But, maybe, like many of us, you wish you had wings and could fly – like Icarus – but not with the same consequences. I wish I had feathers and wings because then I would soar into the sky as high as I could go!

Before I begin, this posting is not the definitive answer to everything about feathers or preening. But I hope to give you a glimpse into the importance of both to Red-tail hawks. Sort of a nutshell version. If you are really interested in feathers and believe me, there is a lot to learn, I have included the name of a good book later in this blog.

Red-tail hawk chicks begin to jump and flap in the nest, according to my observations, approximately 2-3 weeks after they hatch. They are building the muscles in their wings when they flap and flap. Flight feathers not only help birds fly and soar but they are contoured and offer protection from the weather. In the first photo below, there is a snow and ice storm in Ithaca on May 8. Big Red’s feathers are keeping her dry and also protecting the chicks. Look carefully at the one under her beautiful red tail feathers.

Feathers keep birds warm and dry – in ice, rain, and snow. The chicks have not yet developed feathers to do this so Big Red covers them.

Several times this spring, the rain has just been torrential in Ithaca. Again, the feathers kept Big Red, no matter how drenched she looked, dry and in turn, she spreads her wings to keep the chicks dry and warm.

For us newbies, we were worried about Big Red in all the rainy weather. Here she is covering the chicks. They get so warm that they often stick their heads out just to get cool. And just a note. Both Big Red and Arthur have brood patches where their feathers have worn down from incubating the eggs and then protecting the chicks.

When it is really hot and humid as it is in both Ithaca and Syracuse the last few days, rain can be very welcome to hot hawks. Below is an image from the Syracuse University Hawk cam showing two of their newly fledged red-tails dancing in the rain to cool off. It reminds me of being in India in the late 1980s and 1990s. You would beg for the rains to come to cool off and would run out into the rain ever so thankful!

So remember. Flight feathers are not just for flying but they are also for protection from the weather. The water resistance from the feathers comes from hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure is the tension between the structure of the feather versus the pressure of the water. Water droplets bead on the feathers.

Arthur leaving to get prey for the chicks with Big Red giving him directions. Notice his legs tucked up and the slight curve of his wings at the end and, of course, that beautiful red tail.

Wing feathers are the longest and the most useful for flying. Below is a closeup of one of the chicks with their wing feathers starting to grow. Also notice the tail feathers that are beginning on the chick and the recognizable “red tail” of the Red Tail Hawk on Big Red. The chicks will not get their beautiful red tails until they are in their second year. Tail feathers are like the rudder on a boat. They help the birds manoeuvre. About a month after they have fledged, the chicks should be able to soar into the sky.

Approximately 18% of the weight of a Red-tail Hawk comes from feathers. By the time the chicks are 29-31 days old, their dorsal wings should be 90% feathered. Their legs will begin to feather and they will get the characteristic “pantaloons”. The ear openings should be covered and the upper tail coverts should be well developed. By the time they are 35 days old (about a week from a possible fledging or first flight off the nest), the head will be at least 50% feathered, the dorsal body will be 95% feathered, and the breast should be 90% feathered. Their tail feathers should be five to six bands long, preferably. The more bands the more successful the first flight will be.

This chick is J3, the youngest. He is 31 days old. Note the distinctive “peach” on the breast, the lovely dark feathers marking the “apron” below the crop. The downy head is beginning to gets its feathers and the feathers covering the legs are there.

At the time these chicks fledge, their wing and tail feathers will be longer than their parents. With their first molt, they will return to normal. Molting is the falling out and gradual replacement of the feathers.

There is a really good book on feathers. It is Feathers: the evolution of a modern miracle by Thor Hansen. There is so much to learn including every part and its function! Apparently humans have the DNA to grow feathers but we don’t have the “switch” to turn it on and off. Feathers are much more efficient than their hair. Hawks also use their feathers like a sharpening tool to keep their beaks in perfect condition.

The simple definition of preening is that it is cleaning and maintaining the feathers. Preening reinforces and conditions the surface of the feathers with gland oils. These gland oils contain vitamin D. When the feathers are exposed to sunlight after preening, the oil works as a protective conditioner. The oil in the glands change composition during the year just like you will, if you live in a cold climate in the winter, change the weight of your oil in your car. Red-tail hawks spend approximately 77% of their time preening.

This is an example of a warble. This is when the head of the bird is folded all the way back and down and they are preening their wings
The chicks learn quickly how to balance themselves on branches or metal railings and preen at the same time!

One of the things that I found most interesting about the feathers is that because they are hollow, some researchers understand that birds can feel the changes in barometric pressure and will know what weather conditions are approaching. They are more likely to know the precise weather approaching than the local weather station. They have to. They live outside in the trees, roost on the ledges of buildings, and depend on millions of years of evolution to give them clues to nature’s mysteries so they can survive.

Why are female Red-tail Hawks almost always 30% larger than the males?

It is called Reverse Sex-size diamorphism. There are several theories as to why this happens with Red-Tail Hawks.

The first is that the females had to be larger to protect themselves from the feisty males.

The second is that the females selected smaller males to be their mates because the size difference allows each of them to hunt different prey and reduce any competition for food between the pair. Raptors that hunt birds are generally smaller and faster with the female specializing on larger prey. At the beginning of the nesting season, the female becomes an active hunter and again when the nestlings are larger. Generally the adults tend to partition the prey resources in their territory.

Another theory is that the females need to be larger because they must accumulate reserves in order to produce eggs. When they are incubating eggs and brooding young, they rely on the male to feed the family. Red-tail hawks are usually born in April when the prey are sluggish and just coming out of hibernation. Small males can make quick turns. In the case of the Red-tails on the Cornell Campus, Arthur W, the male, is known as the ‘stealth bullet.’ He is quick, fast, focused, and quiet when he hunts. Big Red’s former mate, Ezra, was like Arthur W a great hunter but he was also about 30% smaller than Big Red as is Arthur.

Ezra has his wings spread and his legs tucked tight. If you look closely you will see that he is delivering two items to Big Red. The first is a snake and the second is a flower!
It is very difficult to get Big Red and Arthur to stand up straight at the same time. They certainly do not listen to requests from humans!This is the closest I have come to finding an image that might be able to show you the difference in their size. Big Red is on the left and has her head leaning back preening and she is a little more slumped than Arthur who is on the right.

In terms of the nestlings, the only way to positively known the gender of the bird is through either a DNA sample or you see them laying an egg when they are older. Everyone likes to guess the sex of the chicks growing in the nest cup. Using reverse sex-size diamorphism, we speculation whois a female by their overall size as they grow in the nest and the size of their feet. But again, no one can be absolutely sure. In the past one of the small nestlings was always believed to be a male. This particular bird injured its wing and, as a result, had to be taken to a vet. The bird’s DNA was tested and, to the surprise of many, it was determined to be a female. So not every small Red-tail Hawk is a male!

In terms of the relative size of each J, J1 is the largest of the three. Early in its development, everyone noticed the large size of its feet. Now as a juvenile, J1 remains the largest of the three siblings. But there is something else about J1 that I personally find fascinating. J1 is very much interested in nest maintenance. She can be seen, even today, mimicking Big Red in attempts to vent the nest bowl. She rearranges the nest twigs and on the second day after she fledged, she brought a branch to the top of the Rice patio. There seems to be 100% agreement that J1 is going to be a good mama like her mother, Big Red.

J3 in the front and J1 behind watching J2 fledge. Look at the difference in the size of their legs as a starting point.

J2 on the other hand is also a large bird, not as large as J1 but larger than J3. J2 was actually the first egg to be laid but the second to hatch and is, therefore, actually the oldest. His fledge was more like a fludge when he climbed up on the light box and then slipped but his flight was still remarkable. J2 has continued to be a very, very strong flyer already interested in hunting. The shape of “his” head – you will notice that I continue to use the term “his” – is also different than that of J1. He has an intense focus and besides bugs and insects he has already been interested in small birds in the territory. To my knowledge he has not caught one. He is also very aggressive. A few of us believe he is truly a male and will be a great hunter like his dad, Arthur W.

J3 eating his first prey drop after fledging.

J3 is the problem child that everyone loves. . J3 was born four days after the other two and it was also the last egg to be laid. Taken together, J3 is actually a week younger than its siblings. That is a lot in the life of a Red-Tail Hawk chick. It may also account for the fact that Arthur W brings food to the nest tower in an apparent effort to feed J3 away from the two larger siblings. Let me try to explain what has been happening. Normally the juveniles are spread out being individuals. This trio is quite different according to the people who have monitored all of the broods on camera (since 2012). It is because they tend to congregate together. To hang out. If one is on the Rice patio, all three might be there.

All three on what is called the Rice patio. Arthur W often makes food drops here but it is also a safe and flat site where they can sleep in the sun or practice their skills.

They might all be on one of the towers including the nest tower. Still, on occasion, they go their separate ways.

J1 in one of the oak trees near the Fernow Building looking at a squirrel.

A prey drop is just that – one of the parents dropping lunch. The juveniles will, unless they have recently eaten, fight for the food with the most aggressive mantling the prey. Unless the prey item is too large for the chick to eat all at once, sharing doesn’t seem to happen. So, because of J3s size and a seemingly lack of aggressiveness in comparison to J2, J3 is somewhat at a disadvantage. This is the reason that I believe Arthur W still supplies food on the nest to the little guy.

Arthur has been dropping lunch off to J3 for several days now. This was around 3pm. He seems to be looking for J3 who arrives almost immediately.
J3 mantling the prey that Arthur W dropped on the nest. Remember mantling is a way of protecting the food item so that no one else can steal it.
J3 finishing up his afternoon snack.

For now, the gender of the three juveniles is sheer speculation. There are no banding practices and no GPS monitors on the Js. In other words, no identification. It is only when one of the juveniles might find its way to the vet and be both recognized and tested that the sex would be determined.

Tomorrow we are going to talk about the importance of preening.

Everything is fine in the world of the Js

Little J3 spent the night of June 14 on Rice, apparently alone. He flew back to the nest hoping to have breakfast at 7:46 am on June 15. Arthur quickly awarded him with a squirrel which he mantled with both feet. The little guy was really hungry and no one was there to steal his food! Great hawk reflexes though. A couple of hours later Arthur returned with a chippie. Full to the brim J3 spent the day lounging on the grating or the natal nest, sometimes sleeping on his favourite leaves. At sunset, he flew back to the Rice building where he spent the night. He was just waking up this morning, stretching, and sleepy.

J3 on the nest tower thinking about flying over to the Rice building to spend the night.
J3 getting into the line backer position to take off. He is really getting his flying skills down.
J3 getting in position to fly off of Rice to head back to the nest where he will spend his day eating the food drops from Arthur. He will fly out and over to Rice to spend his second night there.
J3 is figuring out how to tuck up his landing gear!
Arthur delivering breakfast to J3 over on the nest tower. A nice reward for all the effort of his fledging the previous day.
This is an excellent example of mantling prey – protecting it so no one else can get it.
The rear view of J3, now relaxing with no sibs about, eating his lunch chippie.

J1 also spent a bit of time on the nest rearranging the oak leaves that Big Red had brought in but most of her day was spent on top of Rice where her and J2 received prey drops from Big Red.

Around 5pm she made her way to the trees in front of the Fernow Building. At one point it looked like she wanted to get to the nest and she began breaking branches to aid her flight. Very intelligent. She then changed her mind. When I left her last night at 7pm she was in the Oak tree preening and this morning she was with a squirrel in one of the Oak trees in front of Fernow.

J2 is harder to keep up with as he is our “stealth bullet baby”. J2 has amazing flying abilities. It is like he skipped the learning stage and went to advanced intermediate. Yesterday he was aggravating a bunch of robins near the old coop buildings on the Cornell campus.

It is now the morning of June 16 and all is well with the J family. They are fed by the extraordinary hunting skills of their father, Arthur, aged 4. Their mother, Big Red, aged 17, keeps a close eye on the chicks. I wish I was on the ground chasing them about in Ithaca but, sadly, not. Postings about their development and happenings will appear daily albeit they could be short.

In the meantime preparations are ongoing, around the world, for the very first World Albatross Day on June 19. Stay tuned for information on that event as well as the challenges that both the Red Tail Hawks and Albatross face living with humans and machines.

June 14. Double Fledge. J3 goes first at 8:46, 46 days old. J1 goes two hours later, 50 days old.

Wow. What a busy morning. The oak leaf and thorn plus withholding food certainly motivated the last two chicks out of the nest. J2 came over for a visit expecting to get some food but Big Red and Arthur must have had a confab last evening and decided it was thorns and oak leaves, no food. It is incredible how food can be used to motivate behaviour.

At 8:46 nest time, the hungry and light Little J3 decided it was time to go. After bouncing around on the nest, he slipped over to the front railing where everyone has expected him to fledge. In fact, Little J3 has spent most of the past several weeks looking out to the world from that very spot. He could often be seeing jumping around on the nest cup like it was his own personal trampoline but always stopping to look out to the world through the railing.

J3 after running across the nest and flapping stops to watch J1 flapping.

Over the course of the last few months, from the time of incubation, hatching, and changing, preparing to fledge, J3 won the hearts of many. For one thing, he is so tiny compared to J1 and J2. Speculation has always been that “he” is a “he” because of his size. Only a couple of us think that “he” is actually a very small female hawk. That is because “it” has very large feet in proportion to its size. Additionally, J2 always picked on J3 including sleeping on prey to keep it from him. As the chicks matured, Little J3 or Little Bit as he was often called was protected and cared for by his/her big sister, J1. Even this morning before J1 fledged, she was taking care of the nest bowl completely oblivious to the rest of the world. But because of her attachment to J3, it is believed she finally took the step and just joined her sibs (see later in post).

J2 was sitting on the railing and J1 was pleasantly resting in the nest cup as J3 made his way over to his favourite spot.

Look carefully above the road. J3 is winging it across the street. BOGs on the ground said it sounded like a little helicopter motor as opposed to when J2 (sitting on rail) fledged yesterday which was like a stealth rocket, totally silent.
J3 has his white pantaloon legs down from the previous shot and you can see that if this were video, he would be flapping his wings. When he gets more experienced he will tuck those legs up tight so there is no drag when he flies. Imagine if you will the problems that airplanes have if their landing gear gets stuck in the down position. It is the same for hawks.

The BOGs (Birders on the Ground) thought that J3 had landed a great distance from the nest because he was so light and going at such a clip. There was even speculation that he had flown all the way to a nearby lake. Even Big Red was circling around to find her chick.

In the end, J3 landed in one of the trees in front of the Fernow Building close to where J1 had fledged yesterday. After looking for some time, the BOGs found him. His descent was not as smooth as his take off. What a little guy! His great long life journey, we hope, begins.

J3 landing, rather awkwardly, on a tree near the Fernow Building. As he gains confidence and experience, these awkward moments will stop. J3 is, I am told by those who have trained and watched hawks for years, a typical fledgling, struggling to figure it out. But because of J2’s stellar performance the day before, us first timers thought his fledge would be like J2s.

While J3 was settling in the tree away from the eyes of the BOGs hunting him, J2 is on top of the Brueckner Building. J1 is on the nest cup rearranging the oak leaves that Big Red brought in the night before. At 10:36, after much back and forth, J3 gives up and reluctantly fledges between the rails at the front of the nest facing her siblings (J2 is on Bruckner and J3 is in the tree in front of her across the street).

J1 hems and haws for several minutes before taking flight. J1 will be a fantastic mom one day – she had a great teacher, Big Red.
And J1 is off!
J1 has spread her wings and she has cleared the light box. A well intended, albeit reluctant, fledge. Not a fludge.
Last night Big Red brought in oak leaves and thorn branches to the nest. Laura Culley, a falconer and owner of Mariah, a red tail hawk aged 28, speculates that the chicks will use the visual clues to find the oak trees across the road when they fledge.

J1 had a slow flight across the street but remembering those oak leaves, she landed beautifully in the oak trees just as Big Red suggested! Isn’t she gorgeous? Like J2, she has beautiful blue eyes which will get darker in time. Ironically, her little brother (sister?), J3, already has dark eyes. It was a good way to tell them apart even if he was smaller because sometimes it got confusing.

Big Red tries to lure the trio with food at noon. She stands on top of a wooden pole with a chipmunk and is tempting them but no takers so far.

Arthur brought a chipmunk to the patio and it was picked up by Big Red. She took it to a tall post where the chicks could see her. She waited to see if any of them would come to the post for their food. None did.

When none of the chicks came to the post to retrieve their lunch, Big Red eats some of the chipmunk taking the rest to J2 on top of the Bruckner Building. It was the first prey drop of the season to the chicks. J2 was delighted. He even carried the chippie around for awhile and mantled it when Big Red arrived with an oak branch. Some think that is a clue for him to spend the night on top of the Bruckner Building where it is safe.

J2 suns himself on top of the Bruckner Building after he eats his lunch. Big Red often can be seen on the Bradfield Ledge in this same position.

As J2 suns himself after his lunch, J1 flies to the top of the Rice Building, a site that would have been very familiar from the nest. Meanwhile, J3 has decided to come down from the tree and get itself in some mischief around the road. Thanks to the BOGs on the groud and especially Karel and BOGette, he did not get run over by a truck and eventually made his way to the roof of one of the buildings. From here he can work his way to a point where he should be able to see and fly to his sister, J1. He first has to manage his way up onto a slate roof and then over to the metal corners before flying over to the Rice Building. It is definitely not easy walking on slate with talons!

J3 discovers it is difficult to hawk walk up roofing slates. He eventually gets to the metal corner and makes his way to the ridge where he sees his beloved sister, J1, and flies over to join her hoping to get some supper from Arthur or Big Red.
J3 joins J1 on the top of the Rice buildings air conditioning unit.
J1 is waiting alone for his prey drop from Big Red or Arthur.

Wow. What a day. And it easily came with tears at the end of it. We leave J3 on top of the air conditioning unit waiting for food from mom or dad. It is the first day for all three of the chicks to be out of the nest.

But for Big Red and Arthur it is a day to be proud. Big Red has successfully fledged all of her babies since the time the cameras were installed in 2012. They know that she also had at least two broods pre-camera and probably more before. In all she has fledged 24 chicks on camera and at least another six off camera, 30 in all.

In the coming weeks Big Red and Arthur will help the chicks to hone their flying skills and will teach them how to hunt for their future survival. I will bring all of you updates as they become available.

June 13 Fledge Watch continues

There are several ways used to determine the age of a red tail hawk chick. Using the Cornell method both J1 and J2 were born in the same 24 hour period; they are both 49 days old today and Little J3 is 45 days old. The average age that a chick has fledged in the last three years is 46.1 days. Of the Js, only one has fledged, J2 who fledged yesterday at age 48 days. As you might then imagine, Cornell RTH watchers were on pins and needles today expecting J1 and J3 to both fledge at the same time. They are buddies – Big Sis taking care of Little Brother.

J1 allopreening J3. Preening is when a bird cleans their own feathers. Allopreening is when a bird preens another bird. Some hawkaholics call it kissing. Arthur is often seen allopreening Big Red when they are resting.
Arthur allopreening Big Red on the Bradfield Building ledge.

So what happened today? J2, having spent the night sleeping in a pine tree across the road, returns to the nest for breakfast.

J2 has really mastered hovering, flying, and landing on rails and branches. Here he is sitting on the rail before jumping down to join J1 and J3 for a chippy breakfast.
This is Arthur bring prey to the nest. Note how high the nest is on the grating. You can see one of the chicks clearly in the nest bowl looking at their dad bring food.
Arthur delivering a squirrel to the nest in early April. Notice the pine needles. These are thought to keep insects from the nest.

Parents will continue to provide most of the food for the chicks until they are fully able to hun themselves. Even then it is not unusual for chicks to chase their parents begging for food.

Ever though about what a young nestling might eat? Ah, probably not! Unless you are a hawkaholic and joke about making chocolate chippie cupcakes with a squirrel glaze? All kidding aside, food is essential to the well being of these red tail hawks.

Prey is delivered to the nest beginning at just before sunrise and just after sunset. On average, in this prey rich area, food items are delivered ten to fifteen times a day. This provides each nestling with an average of 410-730 grams of food per day. The Cornell Labs keep a daily log of which parent delivers prey and when and what it was. There have been more than 300 deliveries so far since the chicks hatched in late April. The male – in this case Arthur – is the main hunter. He has brought in a snake, cottontail bunnies, goslings, pigeons, mature grey squirrels (didn’t like them so much because they have tough skins), smaller squirrels, voles, Starlings, other small birds, and a whole lot of chipmunks. In fact, chipmunks comprise approximately 77% of the chick’s diet this year according to the prey log. In 1990 a study was done and at that time, the red tail hawk diet consisted of 68% mammals, 17.5% other birds, 7% reptiles and amphibians, and 3.2% invertebrates. The list of possible prey items (food) depends on the geographical location of the nest and the amount of prey available. Hawks have 20/2 vision which means that they can see something at 20 feet as if it were only 2 feet away. This is a tremendous help in hunting for food as you can well imagine. The survival of the red tail hawks depends on their prey base.

Big Red and Arthur have a territory of 1.5-2 square miles. The area that Big Red and Arthur have on the Cornell campus is abundant with prey. When the chicks were little the chat group used to joke that only people who love hawks talk about and try to identify dead animals. This year we decided that Arthur belonged to “Over Providers Anonymous.” There was so much food that at one time chippies and squirrels almost completely carpeted the nest area.

The three Js in their fur lined nest in early April. J2 is in the front. J3 (back right) leans on his buddy, J1.

Chicks need a lot of food to aid in their tremendous growth. From the time they hatch to an average of six weeks remember, they go from being a bobble headed newborn growing almost as large as their parents. In fact, their wing and tail feathers are longer than their parents to aid in their flight training. During their first molt, these feathers will return to a normal size. They also need a lot of calories to grow so fast.

The three Js being fed by their mother, Big Red. Big Red is the one on the far side at the left. Notice how large the chicks are. They do not have their distinctive red tail feathers yet. These will come in their second year. The two oldest chicks are 41 days old in this picture.

So tomorrow is June 14. To encourage J1 and J3 to fledge, Big Red resorted to bringing thorn branches to the nest around 7pm! Stay tuned.

I am grateful to Barb Michel Matthews, Karel Sedlasek, and the Cornell Lab for the images in this blog.

7:46, June 12. J2 fledges.

It is the day that everyone has been waiting for – the first fledge off the Fernow light tower at the Cornell Campus in Ithaca, New York. The winner of the honour was J2.

J is the designation for the year, 2020. The camera began recording the activities at the nest in 2012. Knowing that Big Red had, at least, two earlier years raising successful chicks prior to the cameras, they began with the letter C in 2012. The ‘2’ is because this hawklet was the second to hatch but was, ironically, the first egg to be laid. Which if you are good at math and understand the counting indicates that this chick is actually the oldest.

J2 has beautiful blue eyes which will eventually turn darker and a wide white terminal band. Notice how the breast (or crop area) is covered with the typical peach colour for these hawks. At fledge it also had a line of ‘dandelions’ remaining on the top of its head, like a mohawk hair-cut.

J2 sitting in a pine tree across the street from the nest but within view of his mum, Big Red. Notice the little dandelions on his head. How cute! Their talons have tendons that enable them to sleep or sit standing up without fear of falling over.

J2 set a first in the recording of fledges from the Fernow Tower nest. He fledged off the back of a light box. It was, actually, more of a fludge. He/she spent some wonderful time sitting on top of the light box balancing nicely and then slipped but recovered beautifully flying under the tower, across the street, landing by its talons on Bradfield to steady itself in a nearby Ginko tree.

For nearly twelve hours, until the camera stopped rolling, J2 kept us on the edge of our chairs. I tell you it was better than a good thriller on Netflix!

He/she flew keeping the legs tucked tight like a pro. J2 spent some time on top of the Rice Building, flew back near Bradfield and played around on the steps and railings to the entrance, flew off again to another building, and finally wound up near to where it started, back in the tree. Throughout Big Red was watching from the southeast corner at the top of Bradfield while Arthur soared whenever J2 got out of sight so that the chick could be located. Nothing gets by these two parents. Parenting is a well orchestrated sharing of duties.

Big Red on the left (17 years old) and Arthur on the right (4 years old)

When I first began watching the hawks on the ledge at NY University, I naively asked the chat group what kind of dangers hawks experienced. The Washington Square group were very patient with me describing the use of rodentcides that cause blood not to coagulate as a prime poison for the hawks in the parks of NYC. This is because their primary prey are the rats of the city. And then there are cars, buses, trucks, windows, air vents between buildings -. The list was extensive.

This morning J2 flew over a street with little traffic but still the cars and buses were moving at a clip and well, who knew that he could steer itself to the safety of a tree away from the road? He/she could have also, just as easily, flown into a window. There is a box of worry beads in the chat room and I suspect most of us were helping ourselves today. The sad truth is that 1 in 3 red-tail fledglings do not live to see their first year. I hope, for these in rural New York, that is not the case.

So tomorrow will be another nail biter as we wait to see what J1 and J3 will do. Will they both fledge at the same time? on the same day but at different times? will either of them try to go over the light box like J2 or will they find some new entry way to this next stage in their life?

Stay tuned! I am now officially a hawkaholic.

Teaching nestlings the value of food

By the time the three Red-tail hawks have fledged off the light stand at Cornell University, many of you might well be tired of listening to my natterings about the good parenting of these amazing raptors. Every day there are new lessons or repeated ones for the eyasses so that they can live a full and healthy life without relying on their parents. Isn’t that what all of us really want for our children? To sit back and smile knowing that they can take care of themselves if we are not there?

Today’s lesson involved a pigeon.

Just before the nestlings bedtime (around sunset), Arthur, the tercel (male/father) delivered a pigeon right in the middle of the nest and fledge area.

Arthur delivering the plucked pigeon.

Food to the nest has been dispersed sparingly as the nestlings approach the time they will fly off the natal nest. From morning til about 6pm, each had something to eat. And now it is right before bedtime. This is an easy snack! Their dad even plucked it for them. But the nestlings go about playing and picking up sticks and dreaming of flying and ignore the prey.

One of the nestlings near the prey but it shows no indication of being hungry or ready to eat.

Big Red (the mother/formel) comes to check on the state of the pigeon about ten minutes after it has been delivered. Ten minutes after this she comes with a branch and does some nest reconstruction. The youngest chick starts chirping wanting to be fed and the other two approach her as if she will fed them. Big Red has other ideas.

In the real world of hawks off the nest, prey can be scarce and young fledglings have to learn to eat when food is available, not ignore it. That was the lesson for today. Big Red looked around for a bit, picked up the pigeon with her talon and with nestlings chirping, she left with it. She does not bring it back even if they beg. It is gone. Too late. Too bad. Adios.

The Js have grown up.

It has been nearly a month since I wrote my last blog. On May 6, I made the argument that a Red tail hawk named Big Red should be ‘Mother of the Year 2020.’ I am still entranced with the antics of Big Red, her mate Arthur, and their three eyasses (baby hawks) living on top of an 80 foot light tower at the University of Ithaca. Those fuzzy little nestlings, all cute and bonking one another, are now approaching the ‘fledge’ window.

The Js during their first week all lined up to be fed by Big Red. Hawks need a variety of food for their health and the territory of Big Red and Arthur is rich in prey. 77% of their diet is chipmunk with pigeons, squirrels, snakes, and other birds making up the remainder.
The hawklet at the back is J3 self feeding on a chipmunk. J3 was born four days after J1 and J2 and is the smallest of the three. Due to its small size, many believe that this bird is a male. The only way to know gender for certain is through DNA testing or seeing an egg laid.

Fledging is the term used for when the eyasses fly off the natal nest and begin their journey towards being independent of their parents. The average age is approximately forty-two days after hatching for this nest. The eyasses need their flight feathers to have grown in with approximately five but better six dark stripes, not including the white terminal band at the end, in their tail feathers.

The hawklet on the left is the youngest, J3. Notice that he has 2 clear black stripes with a hint of a third while the one on the right clearly has four.

They should be able to sleep standing up, and must be able to self-feed. At the time of fledging, the eyasses’ wing span will actually be larger than their parents. The length of the wings will return to a normal size for juvenile hawks during their first molt. The larger wingspan and tail feathers really helps them to achieve success during fledging. They will not get their beautiful red tails until the second year. The ‘fledge window’ for 2020 is between June 4-13. Sometimes a eyass fludges. Fludging is when a chick accidentally flies off the nest. There will be hundreds of eyes on the Cornell Hawk cam as the Js hop, jump, and flap their way to independence.

One of the Js jumping on the nest (above and below). Eventually they will run and jump on the metal grating of the light stand.

During the first three to six weeks after fledging, the parents continue to provide food for the young ones while they learn to capture prey on their own, going for ground forays from their perch. They are learning how to control their flight before they can catch things that run away. Their parents will continue to give aerial and soaring demonstrations and help the hawklets well into the end of summer. By the time that Big Red and Arthur are decided which nest of theirs to use for raising their next batch of chicks, the Js will be out finding their own territory. They will not get their beautiful red tail feathers until they are a year old. And, most of the time, they will be two or three before breeding. Arthur seems to be an exception as he was one when he became big Red’s mate.

Big Red has been doing aerial displays for the Js for the past several days. You can tell she is soaring as the Js twist and turn to get a good look at her. Yesterday she flew right up to the nest and pulled up disappearing into the sky as seen in the photograph below. Oh, the little ones so want to fly and soar. It won’t be long!