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.