If you hear the name Ferris Akel, you might recognize the individual that gives a regular Saturday afternoon virtual birding tour of the area around Montezuma National Park, Wildlife Drive, Sapsucker Lake, and the Cornell Campus at Ithaca. Ferris also surprises us with ‘pop up’ tours of the Cornell Campus at other times so that he can see what is going on with Big Red and her family and share it with us. Tonight, we got a special tour and were able to see all four members of the Big Red family.
For those of you unaware, Big Red is a Red-tail Hawk. Red tail hawks are easily identified by their bright orange-red tail feathers once they are adults. The females are larger by approximately 30% than the males. This is called reverse sex size diamorphism. Red tail hawks have amazing eye sight. They will scan for food while they are soaring or are know to sit quietly on a perch for long periods of time watching for their prey. They will immediately fly to get it. Unlike the Peregrine Falcons who take their prey in the air, Red tail hawks normally fly down and get their prey on the ground. They do not normally eat carrion (dead animals) unless they are really starving. Their wing span is 1.2-1.5 metres for both males and females or 3.9 feet to 4.9 feet.
Big Red is a huge celebrity within the birding community. Big Red is now 18+ years old. She was banded near Ithaca, at Brooktondale, on 20 October 2003. Her current mate, Arthur, hatched in a territory next to the Cornell Campus in 2016. He has been Big Red’s mate since her mate, Ezra, died in March 2017. Arthur was first spotted visiting the nest in April of 2017. Big Red and Arthur were an ‘item’ by the fall. Their nest is on one of the light boxes across Tower Road from the Fernow Building. This year they hatched three chicks, the Ks. Two of the three fledged – this is the only time that Big Red did not have all of her chicks that hatched fledge. K2 sustained an injury to her right cheek and beak in the nest and had to be euthanized. She would never have been able to live in the wild nor would she have been able to have any quality of life in captivity. The two surviving chicks, K1 and K3, have already proven themselves to be excellent flyers and it looks like K1 has already had some successful hunts.
Big Red was named after the territory she dominates, the Cornell Campus. She is also a large Red-tail Hawk with a lot of the beautiful rusty brown colour and bring orange-red tail feathers. In the image below she is beginning to become ‘Big Blond’ as she is moulting.
She is the matriarch. It is estimated that she has probably hatched chicks for fifteen years. Ezra was probably her first mate. If she hatched three chicks per year, that means that she has fledged 44. That is an incredible record! Sadly none of the chicks were banded so there is no knowledge of their whereabouts or status. A small number are known to have died after fledging. One was injured and is an ambassador bird for Cornell, E3.
Big Red is noted for her very dark plumage and that amazing red feathered apron.
Ferris first spotted one of the Ks on a light tower.
Big Red was spotted on the Water Cooling Plant.
You can see that her feathers look a little ruffled, untidy. This is the moulting.
Those piercing dark eyes just make you melt.
Can you spot the hawk? Seriously I believe that Ferris Akel has ‘hawk eyes’!
Oh, look it is Arthur! He is Big Red’s mate and is one of the most amazing hunters I have ever seen. He is also moulting!
This is K1 looking out. She is a really good flier and is also believed to have already made a couple of ‘prey kills’. Yesterday she had a little chipmunk and was doing a war cry when K3 came around hoping to get some of it. Normally if the bird is war crying they are the ones that caught the prey and will not share! Even if it is their cute little brother.
At first Ferris and the gang were not sure but once we saw the stripes on the tail, we knew it was K1. K3 has a muddy tail almost verging on red – a first for all of Big Red’s chicks.
K1 is gorgeous and very dark. These images are soft not because Ferris could not focus but because of the heat shimmer off the buildings.
And here is cutie pie, K3. All those little third hatches just soften my heart.
Oh, you wanted your sister to share her chippie and she told you to go and catch your own! Poor little thing.
And that was a wrap. Ferris persisted in finding all of the Ks and trying to get some good images of them despite the heat shimmer and the fact that it was getting dark.
Good night Big Red, good night Arthur, good night K1 and K3.
Big Red and Arthur are moving the Ks around the buildings on the Cornell Campus. They can now be found around the Water cooling buildings, Bartels, and across the ravine. It will not be long til they have them out by the buildings with the cows and the open fields. It is part of their training – enlarging their territory bit by bit. How do they do thus? Food is a great motivator and the adults will carry prey to different areas of the campus and the Ks will follow! It is that easy.
If you see the hawks coughing and shaking their heads and necks and something gets ‘thrown’ out of their mouth, this is called a ‘cast’. It is the bits and bobs of the prey that cannot be digested that is sort of compressed into a small pellet. The raptors cannot digest this and so they throw it up. This is properly called ‘casting a pellet’. This is with the exception of the owls that have a gizzard for digesting these parts of the prey.
It is now getting towards the last week of July. The Ks will be with us for a bit longer. I remember last year. Once J2 and J3 had been catching their own prey around the barns they began soaring. It was not long after that that J3 went poof and was gone with the winds to be followed by J2 the following day.
The last bit of news this morning is that Tiny Little and siblings were fed by White YW (dad) this morning. 462 was first followed by Tiny Little.
It is now around tea time, late afternoon, and Tiny Little has been like a ducking food crying in the nest for a bit.
Thanks so much for joining me. It was a great evening with Big Red and the Ks. They are progressing so well towards their own independence. Sadly, they do not get bands and we will not know where they go or what they do. Lucky for us Tiny Little is Blue 463! Take care all.
Thank you to the following for their streaming cams where I took my screen shots: Ferris Akel’s Livestream and Cumbrian Wildlife Trust and the Foulshaw Moss Osprey Nest.