Big Red, Arthur, and the Ks

It’s Monday. What in the world can happen in Bird World on a Monday? So I was thinking yesterday as I was watching Big Red and the Ks that an update on their progress would be good today. However, I woke up to a request in my neighborhood newsletter for support in stopping our public utility company, Manitoba Hydro, from clear cutting 12-15 ft around their poles at a local park. The reason was clear: there is an active hawk nest in the trees with little ones on their way to fledging. So everyone got busy in the ‘bird’ community in my city and for now, the clear-cutting is on pause. It is the Sandra Crowson Park in East Fort Garry. If you read this and you live in Winnipeg – or elsewhere – send Manitoba Hydro and the Mayor’s Office a note! According to one of the long standing birders in our community, this was also done in Windsor Park in our City. Another woman noted that local arborists are known to cut down trees and put the nests, eggs, and birds into the chipper. I have not seen that but if it happens it is all against the 1918 Migratory Bird Act that is signed by Canada, the US, and Mexico. If you know of such actions, let me know. They can do their trimming after the birds leave – there is still time. Note that I use the word ‘trimming’. Clear cutting that much of an area around hydro poles would mean destroying unnecessarily trees – when our City is promoting the planting of 1 million trees this summer. I wonder if they take off the ones they cut from the ones planted. I doubt it. ——— So for now the hawks and their nest are safe.

So what is going on with Big Red and the Ks? And what do the Ks do when mom is not on the nest. Big Red spends an inordinate amount of time incubating eggs and then staying on the nest when the chicks are smaller. Now that they are being encouraged to self-feed and as we approach fledge she is spending less time on the nest during the day. Here she is taking a break today on the light tower. She is never far away from the nest and, indeed, with their ‘hawk’ vision, the Ks can often see her from the nest.

Let’s have a look.

Sometimes the Ks are little mother hawks and they preen one another just like Big Red preens them. Did you know that birds spend approximately 70% of their time conditioning their feathers? Why do birds preen? Well, the little one poking around the head and ear of its sibling is looking for dirt and parasites. You see they cannot readily see their own head to do this. They also preen to align their feathers, they repair feathers by rehooking the barb hooks on the feathers and applying oil to condition and waterproof their feathers.

In birds, the uropygial gland (preen gland) is located at the base of the tail. The oil from the uropygial or preen gland reinforces or conditions the surface of their feathers. The oils change composition during the year – just like the oil you put in your car is different from summer to winter. The oil that the hawks spread on their feathers when they are preening contains vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Redtail hawk adults do an incomplete moult annually. They do not do this all at once. It would be too much stress on their system. In fact, Big Red turns into a blond during the moulting period.

They practice their self feeding but it is still so nice to have Mom break up the prey and feed the little ones.

The Ks are entering their running, jumping, and flapping period. Look at those gorgeous legs. This is one beautiful bird with all that peach and red. I hope she is a glorious dark red like Big Red.

Sometimes Big Red and Arthur get up on the higher rails and the little ones can see them. Now look at the little baby standing up, K3. Talk about peach on the chest and a gorgeous red feathered apron. This one might look like Big Red for sure! We still need some feathers to cover up those ears and this one will also be getting some head feathers. The ear feathers generally come in first.

When these three fledge in a few weeks time, their wing and tail feathers will be the longest they will ever be – longer than Big Red and Arthur. When they first moult, they will return to normal size. The longer length helps them to fly easier. The juveniles will have their first moult in the spring of 2022 and continue moulting to the early fall replacing P1-7.

This diagram will show you those primary wing feather locations:

Besides working on their feathers, they also spend a lot of time looking around at their environment. I wonder what they think of all the PS they have splattered on those boxes? Or are they just admiring their art work?

Sometimes they will spot Big Red if she flies to the top of the light box where the nest is located.

They also spend a lot of time watching people and cars on the Cornell University Campus. Remember – they are on a nest about 20 metres off the ground. They have a really good view.

Sometimes they see their mom arriving. They must think she is so beautiful. But no food this time Ks. Mom is returning from having some time alone. Dad will be out hunting.

Oh, mom. Don’t jump on me, jump on K1 please!

K1 hatched on the 2nd of May. 46 days is average for Big Red’s eyases but some wait till 48 and last year it was longer. So…for K1 today is 36 days. That means 10-14 days to fledge. These little ones need to grow more feathers in their wings and tails and we will see some changes in Big Red’s behaviour as fledging approaches. One good sign is when she no longer spends the night in the nest with the Ks.

Thank you so much for joining me today. If you hear of tree clear cutting near you and bird nests, please get in touch with everyone you can think of who is responsible. All birds but house sparrows, pigeons, and Starlings are protected under the 1918 North American Migratory Bird Treaty. Take care!

Thank you to the Cornell Bird Lab and their streaming cam on the Cornell campus at Ithaca. That is where I grabbed my screenshots.

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