Arrivals

My day started off really well with the arrival of the much anticipated first egg of Big Red and Arthur at the Fernow light tower in Ithaca, NY. It was really windy this morning reminding us of the terrible weather this gorgeous eighteen year old Red Tail Hawk endures annually.

Arthur arrives at 14:47 and gets to see their first egg. He had to climb over Big Red to do it though!

Arthur looked at the egg for a bit and was promptly off to find some prey for Big Red.

Big Red does most of the incubating. Every year – this is now their fourth – she seems to allow him to incubate a little more. He is a great provider and she is never hungry.

Arthur has brought Big Red a vole for her dinner as the lights go out in Ithaca. You can see it at the front right of the egg cup. How sweet. But wait, it could be a chippie. What do you think with those ears? Arthur is a champ at catching chippies and if you watch this nest you will become an expert at identifying dead prey. Even if you don’t want to. I promise.

Last year I would stay awake in the night or get up to make sure Big Red was OK. There was more than one night when she was encased in snow and ice. Laura Culley used to say to me, ‘Don’t worry. Big Red has this all under control.’ And, of course, Laura was always right. But it didn’t matter – hundreds of us still worried. She looks so contented and happy. It is the middle of the night and it is quiet. The buses that drive down the road in front of the nest aren’t running and there are few, if any, people about.

Look for another egg on the 28th! Big Red can lay three eggs by the 30th. One every other day. This couple have no trouble raising three eyases. If you wanted a perfect hawk family with a territory with lots of prey, their eyases have both.

Nancy and Harry at the MN DNR nest have a chick. The hatch began with a pip at 6:27pm on the 25th. We got a little peek at their new addition today! It is a little cutie and Harry already has food up on the nest for his first. Congratulations Nancy and Harry!

Ah, two older birds – Big Red and Nancy – both choose much younger mates. I hope Harry is as good a provider as Arthur is. So far he has been amazing.

Isn’t Nancy beautiful?

They aren’t eggs or chicks but the Osprey began arriving in the UK so fast today, the very last day of World Osprey Week, that people had trouble filling in their charts. Here are some of the arrivals at the monitored nests if you are keeping track.

Blue 33 or Telyn (female) arrived at the Dyfi Osprey nest in Wales at 17:28 on the 26th. Telyn will now wait for her mate Idris to arrive! This couple is one of the most popular in Wales.

Blue 35 and White YW both landed on the Foulshaw Moss nest today. What fantastic timing.

White YW arrives at the nest accompanied by a crow. 26 March 2021
Blue 35 arrives. I wonder if they know each other are home?

And instead of Louis or Alia, snow arrived at Loch Arkaig in Scotland.

Everything is starting to get exciting. Laddie and his new lady NC0 of the Loch Lowes Osprey Nest were caught mating on the nest. Let’s hope they have a good bond.

Sadly, the fish arrivals at the Achieva Osprey Nest in St. Petersburg did not materialize in the quantity for Tiny Tot to get a food feeding. He tried hard even walking along the nest rail to get fed, begging all the time. The older ones fed for two hours but Tiny only got 7 bites. There was hope for a late fish arrival but it did not materialize. If you read my blog regularly, you will know that I have suffered over this Osprey nest. And that is directly related to wanting to know ‘the why’ of the behaviour. Jack and Diane have raised three before to fledge. Is it the heat? the winds? a lack of fish? Studies have shown that the smallest can be excluded by the bigger chicks even if there is enough food. I would argue that when there was enough, this nest was civil. But a bad storm, then high temperatures (fish go to the bottom normally then), and winds caused an erratic delivery. That set about a perception of a lack of fish for all. For two days, the 23rd and 24th there was plenty and all was well. The past two have seen insufficient food even for Harriet. It is all about survival. And nature, contrary to what many believe, is not cute nor is it nice. That all birds would have parents like Big Red and Arthur and a territory for prey like Big Red and Arthur – well, that would be wonderful.

Thank you for joining me today. I would love to say hello to each of you individually. Thank you for your letters and your comments. I am so glad that you are finding joy in the birds. It is magical, isn’t it? We get a glimpse into a world that we would not have otherwise.

I want to thank the following sponsors of streaming cams: Cornell Bird Lab, MN DNR, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Dyfi in Wales.

Monday Catchups in Bird World

I want to start with this old battle scared Bald Eagle now known as ‘The Warrior’. Perseverance would be a great name, too! This amazing eagle will not give up.

Last fall, in late September or early October, he was seriously injured. His leg was broken and his beak was badly compromised but, he was flying and no one treated him because he was not ‘down’. His leg healed (kinda) and you can see the state of his beak. On 10 February, CT Environmental Conservation Officer Michael Curran, found the Bald Eagle in a ditch unable to move. Lucky for this old fella’, he was taken to A Place Called Hope in Killingworth, CT, USA. He should have been dead. The staff cleaned him up, fed him, and the next day he was still alive and showing all signs of wanting to live. His lead levels were found to be 48.9 – highly toxic. And so a long series of Chelation Therapy began. In this process, EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid)—is injected into the bloodstream (usually through an IV) to remove heavy metals such as lead from the bird’s body.

On 17 February, his lead levels had dropped from 49.8 to 12.5. And on 2 March, they were down to 10.1.

Believe in miracles? I have said it many times but the survival of these beautiful raptors depends entirely on someone willing to take a chance and spend the money! One session of Chelation Therapy costs almost $600 US. The easiest way to fix this is to simply ban the use of lead in hunting and fishing equipment. It is that easy. Every day I read about more and more birds dying from lead toxicity.

On 4 March, the old eagle was doing so well that he was able to go outside in the exterior aviary for the first time since he arrived at the clinic.

And here he is today 15 March 2021 flying around the aviary.

The clinic says that he has difficulty breathing because of the beak injury, especially if he exerts himself. He can fly and has no problems making his target for landing. He can be wobbly when standing. This old fellow who has probably been hungry a lot of his life is very much enjoying the food! I don’t blame him – nice cut up meat in a dish with no rodenticides or lead. Couldn’t be better than that.

If you are anxiously awaiting the Loch Arkaig streaming cam to start, wait no longer, it is now running. We are all awaiting the arrival of Louis and Aila. In 2020, Louis arrived on 5 April with Aila returning on 6 April. In 2019, they both arrived on 4 April.

And the nest that I am waiting for – because Red Tail Hawks and Peregrine Falcons are my true loves – is in Ithaca, New York. The nest is on a light stand on the Cornell University Campus and it belongs to Big Red who is eighteen this year and her mate Arthur who will be five. Arthur has been working non-stop early in the morning to get the nest just right for his mate. I am thinking we will see eggs in that nest in about a week! Yahoo. I promise to make you a fan of RTH’s before they fledge in late July or early August.

And speaking of Red Tail Hawks, it looks like Pale Male – who is thirty-one years old – is actively preparing for this season with his current mate, Octavia. Their nest is at 927 Fifth Avenue on Central Park – the penthouse on the park! D. Bruce Yolton did a short video of Pale Male:

Bruce keeps an active list of all the happenings at the fourteen Red Tail Hawk nests in New York City. (A few are not listed). You can check it out by Googling ‘Urban Hawks’.

If you have not seen the amazing story of Pale Male, all his mates, and the furor that came to involve actress Mary Tyler Moore – the battle to save the nest- then you must watch this film. You simply have to!

https://www.thelegendofpalemale.net/

Here are the Monday beef and bouquets in Bird World: The male Osprey, Jack, at the Achieva Osprey nest in St Petersburg, Florida gets my ‘beef’ for today. It is hot, nearly 30 degrees C and your three kids and your mate are hungry and dehydrating. It is 15:27 – get yourself in gear and bring them a fish and don’t eat the head this time! The Dead Beat Dad Award for this week goes to you, Jack.

The bouquet goes to Louis in the Kistachie National Forest Eagle Nest. This first time Bald eagle dad simply can’t stop fishing. One day there were eighteen on the nest! Stacked! The eaglet and Anna thought they were going to have to sleep on them. Wonder if we could get some of those fish couriered over to St Pete’s for those cute little Osplets? So Louis, first time father, congratulations – you win the bouquet for the week.

Anna is feeding the soon to be named little one on the nest inside the Kisatchie Forest. This little eaglet is so full – almost all day – that it spends much of its time in a food coma. The other day its crop was so big it had a hard time moving. No one is going hungry on this nest! Anna picked a good reliable mate.

One of many meals during the day keep this little one hydrated in the hot bayou of Louisiana. @KNF Bald Eagle cam

The stack of eighteen fish from the weekend is finally dwindling.

Full tummy. Little eaglet in KNF Bald Eagle nest in food coma. @KNF Bald Eagle Nest

Thank you for joining me in Bird World. Take care, stay safe!

Thank you to the following for their streaming cams: Kisatchie National Forest, Achieva Credit Union (St Petersburg, 4th Street), Loch Arkaig Ospreys, and Cornell Labs. Thank you to A Place Called Hope for their dedication to raptors, their belief in the Old Warrior, and for the photos from their FB Page.

Wait just a minute…this is OUR nest!

There have certainly been a number of nest hijacks this season as well as a number of unwelcome intruders. The threats by the Great Horned Owls continue across the United States on well established Bald Eagle nests. Ravens have been attacking the Bald Eagle at the Channel Islands nest and, of course, we are more than aware of the danger the GHOW in Fort Myers is posing to the nest of M15 and Harriet. At the Pittsburg Hays Bald Eagle nest, on the night of 23-24 February, a GHOW launched an attack on the nest. It was the first ever recorded in that nest’s history. Daisy the Duck was not a threat to the White-Bellied Sea Eagles when she borrowed their nest to lay her eggs but the GHOW sure was to the Bald Eagles near Newton, Kansas who backed off and surrendered the nest to the GHOW. It is, of course, not just the ‘top of the food chain’ raptors that are being bothered, injured, or killed, it is also the smaller raptors such as the Red-Tailed Hawks.

For the past few days, Big Red and Arthur, the resident Red-tail Hawks who ‘own’ the territory within the Cornell Campus at Ithaca, have been renovating their nest on the light stand at the Cornell stadium. The pair have been together since the death of Big Red’s long term mate, Ezra, in 2017. Ezra was killed defending Big Red. It was shortly after Ezra’s death in March, that a very young Red Tail Hawk arrived on the nest. He didn’t even have his red tail! By the fall, when Arthur had shed his juvenile plumage, Big Red had decided that he was the one. She had put several potential mates through what could only be called an exercise to see if they were worthy of her and her territory and also to see if they would be good defenders and providers for her and the eyases. Arthur won the contest. The pair successfully raised eyases in 2018 (when Arthur was two), 2019, and in 2020, the Js. This year will be the Ks.

It is now less than a month til the first egg will be laid and the two are working hard to get what is left of the nest after the fledging of the Js. They began when there was still snow on the nest a few days ago.

‘Look at the mess those kids made when they kept trying to fledge from between the light boxes! Arthurrrrrrrr. There is a lot of work to do. You had better get busy.’

These two hawks are the funniest birds I have ever seen. Big Red is VERY loud and gives Arthur distinct instructions about everything. It is quite clear who wears the pantaloons in this nest. Year after year, they have sent observers into hysterical states of laughter, this eighteen year old RTH and her five year old mate.

The pair made several visits calculating the amount of nesting material that they are going to need to get the platform readied. Arthur brings in massive amounts of twigs building up the front and the sides of the nest over the following days as the snow melts.

And then, on the morning of 25 February at 6:56 a group of European Starlings come to check out the nest! Are they thinking that this might be a really good place for them to raise their young? Oh, I don’t think so.

Twenty-three minutes later, Arthur arrives at the nest with a piece of greenery. While raptors will use evergreen to keep away insects, laying a piece of pine in the nest bowl is a signal to all other birds that this nest is occupied.

After placing the pine needles in the nest bowl, Arthur looks around. ‘Where are they!? I hope they are watching!’.

Arthur decides to work on the nest bowl rubbing his chest against the twigs and nesting material to make an indent for Big Red’s eggs.

And before he leaves he takes a very good look around. Arthur knows that Big Red might like a nice squirrel for dinner but she would also love to eat any European Starling that tries to mess with HER nest.

I want to leave you with a smile on your face. It’s the end of February and we can all use one.

Big Red and Arthur do many things to teach their eyases. Sometimes it is about nest building and at other times it is imprinting the different prey items in their mind so they know what they should and should not eat in the future. And, sometimes, Arthur plays tricks. Have a laugh. The video is three minutes long:

Aren’t those little eyases just the cutest?!

Thanks for checking in with me and the birds. Updates tomorrow on the progress of the new mom at the KNF nest and some recent happenings in the Bald Eagle nest – first eggs happening everywhere including Canada. It is going to be busy in a month!

Thank you to the Cornell Ornithology Lab for its streaming cam on the nest of Big Red and Arthur.

Pretty Parents Posing

With the news of more Great Horned Owl attacks on Bald Eagle nests (post on that tomorrow), I wanted to stop and find something joyful to celebrate. Certainly the birds have brought so much joy to all of us. I hear from someone every day telling me what the streaming bird cams have meant to them and how they have begun to take an interest in the birds outside their windows. It is still difficult, in most places, to walk freely outside because of the pandemic. I really do appreciate those little notes that you send me. And I am also grateful for news of new nests. I will be bringing some news of those later this week. Birds have connected us all from the Canadian prairies where I am all the way south from me to a PhD student in Brazil, across the Atlantic and Europe to a lovely woman who cared for a raven for five months in Poland, to Australia, Europe, Asia, and back to North America. It really is hard to measure just how much being able to watch the daily activities of our feathered friends has added to our mental well being for more than a year. They have really kept a lot of us sane and grounded. I hope that the love and concern that you have for the birds now will continue to grow and enrich your life even more.

N24. NEFL Eagle nest, 24 February 2021.

It is pretty hard to beat Samson and M15 for being great dads. The pantries are filled up with every type of prey that they can find, they are both great at incubating the eggs, and are there to see their new babies hatch. Lately I have had fun watching Samson trying to get N24 under him to brood while also incubating that egg that we all know will never hatch. He has been so delicate. Sometimes N24 seems to be brooding that egg that winds up all over the nest. It is almost like it is now an ornament that no one knows precisely what to do with. Eventually it will get broken and make its way down between the branches and leaves and become part of the nest.

N24 looking out at the world, fish in the pantry and ‘that egg’. 24 February 2021.

Yesterday Samson seemed to pose for a photographer out of the frame with N24. I don’t think you could ask them to stand any better! N24 is sixteen days old today and already he has really accelerated in growth over the past week. Juvenile feathers are coming in and since he was five days old, Samson has had him crawling up to the pantry to be fed. A wonderfully strong little eaglet, N24 has been flapping its wings. I wonder how long it will be til he walks?

Look at how proud Samson is of his baby! I think this is my most favourite photograph ever of an eaglet with their parent. Even the lighting is perfect.

Samson and N24. 23 February 2021

The Great Horned Owl has been causing disruptions over at the SWFL nest with Harriet and M15. M15 was knocked off of his branch into the nest and the owl almost pulled Harriet off the nest. These disruptions have happened on a daily basis causing worry for the eaglets’ safety.

I love the image below of Harriet standing over the eaglets in that most defiant pose daring that GHOW to mess with her babies!

Harriet watching over E17 (r) and E18 (l), 24 February 2021

I became acquainted with birds as a child. When I was a little girl, my father fed ‘the red birds’ in our back garden. They were actually a family of cardinals that had a nest in our Magnolia tree. Even though they were wild they knew to trust my dad and they would come and take nuts out of his hand. It was magical to watch. My maternal grandfather had been a rancher. He was the last person anyone would have thought would own a bird but he did. It was a little blue budgie bird named Jimmie. That bird was more special than anyone including me and my grandmother. It ate off the side of his plate at lunch and it pretty much had the run of the house. One day when my grandfather was away, Jimmie flew out the front door. My grandmother and I panicked. We wondered if we could buy another one and would my grandfather notice? Of course he would have noticed! Luckily for us, we left the screen door open and Jimmie flew back into the house after being out for a couple of hours. As a child I was taken to the Natural History Museum at the University of Oklahoma to go through the drawers of eggs and stuffed birds and there was always a stop on the way home to feed the ducks. It was not, however, until a very personal encounter with a female Sharp-Shinned Hawk in my own garden in January 2018 that my interest in the welfare of birds began to grow exponentially. I was less than a foot away from her, both of us were looking intently into one another’s eyes. That moment changed my life.

And that magical moment can happen for you, too. If it hasn’t, already.

This morning a pair of Red Tail Hawks, Big Red who is 18 years old and Arthur who will be five this year, are pondering what to do about their nest in Ithaca. The three Js sure made a mess of it hopping and flapping last year. Both of them have been in and out of the nest lately and today they were there together testing the nest bowl and looking around at all the nestorations needed. The time until Big Red lays her first egg is getting closer. We should be looking for that egg around the first day of spring. Gosh, time passes quickly.

Their nest is on a stadium light box on the grounds of Cornell University. In fact, the Cornell Ornithology Labs operate a number of streaming cameras including this one. There is also a very informed chat group that is often moderated by Laura Culley. She has owned falcons and hawks for almost thirty years. She knows so much. And this nest of Big Red and Arthur’s has already changed what we know about the life cycle and behaviour of these hawks.

The link to the Red Tail Hawk streaming cam is:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/red-tailed-hawks/

Big Red and Arthur, 24 February 2021.

Cornell operates a number of its own streaming cams and partners with other agencies. One of those is the New Zealand Department of Conservation. They both support the camera for the Royal Albatross at Taiaroa Head, NZ. This is a great camera to start watching right now. The chick is unnamed and we will be finding out the gender shortly. I am betting on a boy because right now, he is so big he has to be weighted in a laundry basket and his parents can no longer brood him. He is too big to be under them. The mother, LGL, left him alone for the first time the other day (this is called pre-guard stage) and a red banded non-breeding juvenile kind of roughed the little one up a bit. The juveniles are curious. They have been at sea for five or six years and are returning to find a mate. They haven’t seen little ones before. While it tears at your heart strings when you see these little albatross all alone, around the world there are thousands of others sitting on their nest waiting for their parents to return and feed them. Eventually they will make play nests around their natal nest and begin flapping those big wings of theirs to get their strength for fledging. Weigh ins are Tuesday mornings New Zealand time. On the Canadian prairies, this is Monday 2pm to around 6pm. The link to that streaming camera is:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/royal-albatross/

Royal Cam Chick left alone for the first time in pre guard stage

In about a week to ten days, this little Royal Albatross will be nothing but a ball of fluff. They are so cute and so gentle. It is a very relaxing nest to watch. There is a FB group that brings up to date images and activities surrounding World Albatross Day which is 19 June. I will bring more information on that as it approaches. There are colouring contests for children, cake contests, and eventually, the name the chick contest later in the year. The Royal Cam chick will fledge around the middle of September.

There is joy in the Duke Farms Bald Eagle nest as the snow is finally melting. This eagle mom was encased in snow until recently. We are getting closer to hatch on this nest! There are three eggs under there. I hope there is a lot of prey and that these parents are good at tag team feeding. They are going to need all the coordination they can get!

Snow is finally disappearing. 24 February 2021.

And what a beautiful view from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources nest. This is the nest of that cute little sub-adult male. The snow is disappearing there too making it easier to get prey.

I want to leave you with a big smile on your face. It just goes to show how these birds can just make our moods so much brighter. Look at these two below. That is E17 and E18. They both look like they could simply pop! Or perhaps they are thinking about trying out to be clowns with those big clown feet! How can you not love these two?

E18 closest to the front, E17 toward the back. 22 February 2021.

Take care everyone. Please feel free to let me know of your favourite nest or an experience that changed your life because of birds. I promise to respond. You can leave a comment or you can e-mail me. That e-mail is: maryannsteggles@icloud.com

Thank you to the AEF, the streaming cam at NEFL Eagle nest, SWFL and D. Pritchett Real Estate, Duke Farms, Cornell Ornithology Lab, NZ DOC, the MN DNR.

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.

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.

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.