Sadness and Hope in Latvia

Spilve is a northern neighborhood of Riga, Latvia. It is most famous for its airport that was operating during World War I which is still busy today training pilots. The word Spilve means a type of ‘cotton grass’.

Spilve Airport with its classical facade. Wikimedia Commons.

Spilve is also the name of a very young and extremely beautiful female Golden Eagle and she is the heroine of our story.

The Golden Eagle is one of the largest raptors in the world. This strong eagle is capable of killing cows and horses but normally subsists on medium sized mammals and large birds. They also eat carrion (dead animals, mostly road kill). Golden Eagles are about the same size as Bald Eagles. Their plumage is a beautiful golden brown and their heads are brown with a gold nape. Their average life span is thirty-two years. In Latvia, they are only a few Golden Eagles. They are extremely rare. They are listed in the Red Book (both in Latvia and Russia) and are highly protected. The European Union Directive 2009/147/EC and Article 4 of the Bird Directive also protect their habitats. Various other laws set up protection zones around nests – year round and seasonal. Anyone must have a permit to enter as human interference is prohibited. With the advent of human-made platform nests, there is a slow increase in the number of Golden Eagles.

In 2010, Ugis Bergmannis, Senior Environmental Protection Agent, built an artificial Golden Eagle nest on an isolated island in a bog. That site is managed by Latvian State Forests. Eaglets were raised on that site up to and including 2016 when the male, Virsis, lost his mate. (No one knows how old Virsis is). There were many females that came around the nest that Virsis protected but no bonds were made. Then in 2019 a dark eyed, dark feathered beauty came to the nest. She was too young to breed but Virsis must have been attracted to her. In the late winter of 2020, the pair began to bring twigs to the nest. During March they were mating. Streaming cam watchers along with the people of Latvia were excited because it had been more than three years since a little Golden eaglet had hatched on that nest! Golden Eagles are extremely rare. Eyes were glued to the streaming cam feed and then at 16:30 on the 28 of March 2020, Spilve went into labour for three minutes. At the end she was chorteling to Virsis to come see. The first egg was fully laid at 16:33. So many people in Latvia and around the world celebrated. On 1 April, Spilve laid her second egg.

Spilve looking at her spotted egg.

Golden Eagles take from 40-45 days of incubation between the day the egg is laid and hatch. Local statistics state that only 8% of the Golden Eagle nests having two eggs actually fledge two juveniles. Of Spilve’s eggs, only one hatched. The first egg was unviable and the second hatched on day 38, the 9th of May 2020. The young eaglet was named Klints which means ‘Rock’. The word for Golden Eagle in Latvian is ‘Klinsu Erglis’.

Little Klints is born on 10 May 2020. Spilve looks down seeing her first eaglet.

The early prey was just small birds brought to the nest. The normal prey for Golden Eagles is rabbits and fawns and some wondered if this area had enough food for the family. Images on the streaming cam show the parents arriving with full crops but often there was no food on the nest. This begins to change after about a week. On 17 May, Spilve catches a large rabbit while Virsis cares for Klints. It is a feast for the whole nest including Klints who is chirping away. After this, a variety of food is brought to the nest including a fox cub, more hares, and even ducks. Food items are plentiful and Klints thrives.

I can stand up – on my ankles!

Virsis and Klints looking into one another’s eyes. How touching.

Klints with Virsis.

By June 1, Klints is strong and is standing.

Klints. 1 June 2020. Standing and looking over edge of nest.

Family portrait on 5 June. Virsis on the left, Klints in the middle and Spilve on the right. Virsis made five small prey deliveries on this day. Everyone is doing well.

Family portrait. Virsis on the left, Spilvie on the right and little Klints with a full crop in the middle.

The following day, Virsis brings the legs of a rabbit and its spine to the nest along with a raccoon for the pantry. Watch out Klints!

Food delivery! Watch out below.

Klints watches, in anticipation, his father deliver the heavy raccoon to the nest. Klints is in his accelerated growing phase and needs a lot of food.

By now Klints is very steady when he is standing and you can see the gorgeous black feathers coming in at the wing tips. What a beautiful eaglet!

Did you order a raccoon?

Parents begin to leave Klints on the nest alone by itself. They bring small prey items and Klints mantles and tries to eat them whole without a lot of success. Spilve feeds him. On the 12th of June only a small bird is delivered to Klints by Virsis. It is raining off and on and it is getting hot and humid. 13 June is a much better hunting day for Virsis and he brings a large prey item into the nest. There is enough for everyone!

On 16 June Spilve arrives at the nest with a limp. There is a big thunderstorm and no prey items on the nest for Spilve and Klints to eat. Both are cold and drenched.

Cold and shivering.

Once the rain stops, Virsis brings food to the nest for Klints. Shortly after, Spilve arrives with a small bird. There is lots for everyone to eat. Klints is not self-feeding and he relies on Spilve to feed him. He is meeting each and every one of his milestones. Look at the gorgeous dark plumage coming in on Klints’s wings and back.

Virsis brings prey to Klints.

21 June. Huge milestone. Klints begins self-feeding! Like every other eaglet, it depends on the prey item as to how much success they will have. Spilve is not far away. She watches over Klints so no intruder will harm him. Klints has a difficult time and on 23 June Spilve is at the nest to feed him a late morning breakfast.

23 June Spilve feeds a breakfast of leftovers. Mom and little one kissing.

On 22 June, Vrisis brings in two baby cubs and an adult Black Grouse. This is a bounty. Everyone eats well. Adult eagles can travel as much as 10 kilometres to hunt. Vrisis makes it clear that there are ample prey items to bring to the nest.

23 June. Exercising in the 28+ C temperatures.

June 22 is the last time Virsis is ever seen. He will be presumed dead. Without Virsis to bring in large prey items, Spilve is limited to the area of the nest for hunting. The female eagle’s main job is to take care of and protect the eaglet at the nest. She will only then only hunt around the nest for both of them to survive. Owls and other predators do live in the area. Spilve brings the small prey item which is on the nest near Klints’s talons but he cannot eat. It is too late.

As one of the researchers said, a week without enough food caused this very healthy Golden Eaglet to die of starvation. They said it is clear that one adult cannot feed the baby. And, indeed, after Virsis disappears, owls are around the nest and Spilve knows she cannot leave her baby.

30 June 2020

Klints dies of starvation on 1 July 2020. Spilve brings a small food item and tries to wake Klints to eat. She brings food twice before she comes to understand what has happened. How very, very sad.

1 July 2020

Spilvie was seen visiting the nest in August. She was very careful around the body of Klints which is partially covered with pine needles. Some eagles are known to cover the bodies of their dead in the nest, sometimes moving them periodically. Others cover them and leave them for a few days and then remove them. Eagles have their mourning rituals. At the Captiva Bald Eagle nest in Florida, little Peace was kept in the nest for a number of days and then removed. When Hope died, the parents stood vigil over her body until it was removed for a necroscopy. Both died of rodenticide poisoning, something that could easily be avoided. Peace was young but Hope was big and strong like Klints. So very, very sad.

Spilve is very, very careful. She finds the little bit of food that she brought to Klints after he had died and she eats it.

I am trying to find out if this is a last visit to the nest for Spilve before she migrates for the winter. If anyone knows, please write to me.

On 25 February 2021, a stranger comes to the nest.

Soon Spilve and the new male are making nestorations. It appears that they have bonded. Klints body is covered with more pine and twigs.

You can see the video here;

I would like to thank one of my readers, Etj from Brazil, for alerting me to this wonderful nest and to the plight of this family. All of the scaps of Virsis, Spilve, Klints, and the new male are taken from the Latvian Golden Eagles/LVM Klinsu erglis streaming cam. (Be aware of the time difference. I am not showing images during the night and either the cam is down or there is no IR). Let us all hope that Spilve and her new mate have many successful years together and healthy fledges.

Books, bird count, bunnies, and beak bites (yes, a shark bit an eagle)!

The pandemic and the onset of winter and, now, the Polar Vortex, mean that more often than not, my friends are tucked up under an old quilt or duvet, sipping hot tea, and reading. It is a favourite pastime of Canadians in the winter! And a lovely one at that. It is so nice to find articles in the strangest of places remarking on how we have all come to love books in the past year and have supported small book sellers. Many of my friends order an armful of books each week. Sadly, our libraries have been closed. It has encouraged me to seek out small publishers and second hand shops.

A nice surprise arrived in the post today. It is a book I ordered several weeks ago from an on line shop that specializes in used book. The book is called On the Wing. To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon by Alan Tennant. I haven’t finished my last book but I was tempted to peek inside. Gosh. That first page got me really excited. Let me quote some of the lines: “With no companion, guided only by the ancestral memory she carried within, our little hawk was staking her life. Nothing like the abstract idea of migration that I’d imagined, it was humbling even to be a spectator to the mortal intensity of what the tiny, determined speck below was doing”. “No one would ever know what she thought, but it was clear as we watched, something had swirled to life within this falcon, becoming the driving force of her entire being”. Tennant was in a Cessna Skyhawk, 2000 ft in the air, following a female peregrine falcon, with a tracker glued to her tail feathers, from Padre Island to the Arctic. Oh, I can’t wait to join him on this journey!

And, speaking of migration, before it happens, there is the Great Bird Count from 12-15 of February. And everyone can take part from toddlers to seniors, experts to backyard birders. It is fun and it is free. You just need your eyes (OK, mine aren’t so good because of glaucoma but I can still spot those feathered creatures luring around), a good memory or a note pad and pencil, and a computer to submit your findings.

Just imagine everyone around the world looking out their windows from Friday to Monday counting the birds that they see. You can spend from fifteen minutes each day to as long as you wish. Everyone goes to birdcount.org and reports their counts. Then researchers at places like the Audubon Society, the Cornell Ornithology Lab, etc will create a giant map of where all the birds are. Bird counts happen several times a year. All those counts reveal how recent weather patterns impact the birds and their movements. I hope you will join in the fun!

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And now for some updates on some of our favourite birds.

First up is the NorthEast Florida Eagle cam nest near St. Augustine. E24 is filling itself up with nice big bites of fish for such a little one. Samson brought in several nice big fish today and stocked up the pantry. No worries for Gabby if she is hungry or E24. Not a worry in the world. One of the things I love is seeing the dad fill that fridge up good. It looks like armadillo could be on the menu tomorrow. If only Gabby had a fridge and some non-harmful insecticide spray. There are so many mosquitoes there.

Look at that little one, so fluffy and round.

Well, the second wee one has a problem. A half of the shell from the first hatch did not get out of the nest fast enough and it slipped itself right over the other egg. So, it is making it much more difficult for E25 to hatch. That is why it looked like the chick had pecked all the way around the middle. It was an illusion. Gabby is looking down at a new hole the one inside is making as she tucks E24 in for a nap.

This happens often. Sometimes it takes so long for the little one to hatch that the first born is just so much older and bigger and the second born doesn’t survive. The older one totally dominates everything.

You can see how the shell got slipped over. It looks like the little one inside cracked this egg all around but it didn’t. Look carefully. There is a pip on the left end toward the bottom corner of the picture. Let’s hope it works and gets out of there soon.

I wonder if it is hotter in Fort Myers where E17 and E18 are growing up. The eagles in NEFL just don’t seem to be panting as much today as Harriet, M15 and the twins are.

Just look. You would think they are the best of buddies sharing a joke. Born within two hours of one another, they are twins. But that doesn’t mean, as we all know, that there isn’t fierce competition when it comes to food.

They both had a great big breakfast this morning. Just look at that crop. E17, the oldest, can’t even see its feet.

And here’s E18, just as stuffed. Sometimes I just want to poke one of those crops to see how they feel.

As the day progressed and the temperature rose, the little eaglets searched for any shade they could find around the nest.

It wasn’t long until Mom Harriet flew in and rescued her babies from the scorching Florida sun. She is like a ‘mumbrella’.

Right around tea time, Dad comes in with a snack for the youngsters.

In the book I am reading, Late Migrations. A Natural History of Love and Loss, the author Margaret Renkl says: “The cycle of life might as well be called the cycle of death: everything that lives will die, and everything that dies will be eaten. Bluebirds eat insects; snakes eat bluebirds; hawks eat snakes; owls eat hawks. That’s how wilderness works, and I know it. I was heartbroken anyway”. Renkl was referring to the wrens eating the bluebird eggs in the nest box on her porch. But today, for a snack, M15 found a fluffy little bunny. My friend, Michelle, always tells me that the bunny will become an eagle. It still makes me sad. The hawk that comes to our garden and I have an agreement. He can’t touch the rabbit that lives there or the little Downy Woodpecker. Sparrows are fair game.

M15 has once again made sure that the eaglets are too full for E17 to cause any mischief to her little brother, E18.

But the day is not over. It is 6pm on the nest and the twins are getting fed the rest of the rabbit. E18 has watched and learned well. He is now the master of what we call ‘snatch and grab’. I have seen him do this several times today. Pretends he is not interested, parent offers, he rushes and grabs. It turns out the eat far faster but, hey, whatever works. It is hard to see but both have huge crops and will sleep like babies the rest of the night. Great work Harriet and M15. Gotta’ love this family. If only every eaglet were as lucky (or every child) to have such great parents.

I have not checked into the Captiva Nest on Sanibel Island for several days. The last time there was an intruder and after reading about Romeo and Juliet or the Trio, I just couldn’t stand another heart break. I call the Captiva nest “the sadness”. It has not always been this way, just this year. This is where Peace and Hope, the beautiful eaglets of Connie and Joe died from rodenticide poisoning. You will remember how remorseful the parents were. And then there was an intruder. But, things happen in an instant on these nests and to my shock, when I clicked on the camera for the Captiva Nest today, there was Connie wrestling with a small shark! Seriously, a shark. It actually bit her beak. You can see the blood. (Just a note, it wasn’t blood from the shark). She fought with that thing and didn’t let it get the best of her. And for all the bother, she had a massive lunch. That shark is now an eagle – a fish with feathers. The bleeding was reported to CROW and the vets watched the footage and noted that the blood had stopped. No need for an intervention. Yeah. A quiet little yeah. I honestly don’t know how you would try and help a full grown eagle if it didn’t want to be helped.

Connie must have been very proud of herself. You can see the water in the distance and that shark was alive when she landed on the nest with it. These female eagles really do impress me!

Joe came in to check and see if everything was alright. And Connie allowed him to share her fish when she was finished – but not before!!!!!!!!!!

You can see the blood on her beak form when the shark bit Connie.

This is an image from the other camera monitoring this nest. Looks like a small shark to me.

Over in Hillsborough, New Jersey, the Eagles at Duke Farm are experiencing very different weather from Florida. It is currently 1 degree C. or 34 degrees F. at the nest. Over the next couple of days the temperature will rise to 2 or 3 C and that snow should melt. And then, wham. Just about the time you think it is over for this nest, the snow comes back heavy on Saturday and Sunday.

I promised an update. It is nearing 9:30 pm on 9 February. Across North America the birds are trying to sleep. In Australia, they have been awake for a few hours.

Tomorrow we will check on the Royal Albatross and see if Gabby has one eaglet or two.

Sleep well everyone. Take care of yourselves and don’t get out in this extreme weather unless it is absolutely essential. Check out the site to put in the birds you count in a few days – just so you know where to go. It is such a joy to share my love of these beautiful creatures with you.

Thank you to the NEFL eagle cam, the SWFL cam and D. Pritchett Farms and Real Estate, Captiva eagle cam, and Duke Farms eagle cam for their streaming cameras. This is where I get my screen shots for you.

Rainbow Lorikeets miss Miss Daisy

The Rainbow Lorikeets came to check on Miss Daisy Duck almost every day that she was incubating her eggs in the forest of the Sydney Olympic Park. Yesterday was no exception. The beautiful coloured parrots showed up in droves yesterday wondering where Daisy had gone. You could almost hear them saying , ‘Where is Daisy?’ to one another.

Despite the fact that Daisy isn’t there incubating her eggs anymore, it really does put a smile on your face to see these beautiful parrots coming early in the morning to check on their friend. Daisy had not even been away from the nest for twelve hours when they arrived. I wonder if they will come and check again? They were chattering so much to one another. Maybe they thought that Daisy had covered her nest and gone out dabbling? It is possible. Will keep everyone posted if they return.

For the Rainbow Lorikeets it must have been a shock to see the gentle duck on the nest of the big sea eagles. These parrots, too, would be at the mercy of some of the bigger birds such as the Ravens and no doubt the Ravens have raided their nests as well. Thinking about the Ravens got me to wondering about the White-Bellied Sea Eagles. The behaviour of the Ravens was the same as normal, what you would expect from a Raven. They wanted Daisy out of there so they could eat her eggs! No doubt about it. They came several times when she was incubating and knew that there were eggs. They just waited when she was no longer on the nest.

Daisy happily incubating her eggs.

But it makes me wonder. The WBSE were perplexed and curious. At first, they were upset about ‘something’ trespassing on their nest and their territory. Lady tore more duck down off the nest than Dad who has mellowed over the years. He is now 19 and I believe that Lady is about 6 or 7 years old. I expected the sea eagles to eat all of the duck eggs but they could not manage them with their bills in the same way the Ravens could with their sharp pointed beaks. But the sea eagles kept coming to check. Were they trying to catch Daisy? what were they thinking? and why were they not very aggressive? And then it occurred to me last night and you know what? I was glad that the Ravens got the eggs before the sea eagles came and killed the ducklings when they were born. If all of the eggs had hatched and we certainly know that the one was fertilized with a growing duckling inside, then imagine the peeps and peeps in the forest and Daisy trying to keep the ducklings quiet til they were 24 hours old, old enough to take that leap of faith to the forest floor and follow their mom to water. The sea eagles and the Ravens and other predators would hear those same peeps.

A very sad day when the ravens arrive and eat Daisy’s eggs.
WBSE Lady is very curious about those eggs.

In a way, the Rainbow Lorikeets and Daisy, the Pacific Black Duck, had a lot in common. Kindred spirits I would like to think of them. They both enjoy eating plants, pollen, the nectar from flowers. Like the ducks, the Rainbow Loris do not hunt prey like the sea eagles and the ravens. In fact, Rainbow Lorikeets are known to be terribly territorial and are parrots that do not like other birds. I am sure that they were very curious by the gentle duck in the big sea eagle nest. Indeed, both would be a meal for the sea eagles if the eagles decided that was what they wanted. And both of their hatchlings would also warrant attention by birds of prey. I wonder if that was what drew the lorikeets back to the nest, a kind of kinship?

Hi. Just dropping in to say hello, Daisy.

Daisy understood which of the birds coming to the nest were friendly and which were predators. She seems to always have welcomed the Rainbow Lorikeets!

Thank you to Sea Eagle cam, Birdlife Australia, and the Discovery Centre for the streaming cameras where I captured these images.

Something magical is happening

A Pacific Black Duck laid her second egg in an old Ironwood nest in Sydney Olympic Park, 6 November, 2020. The first egg was laid on 5 November. Photo is screen shot of Live Sea Eagle Cam, Sydney.

A week or so ago, a Pacific Black Duck was seen investigating what she might have thought was an abandoned nest in Sydney Olympic Park. The duck made several visits and according to others, ducks have investigated this nest in the past but have never laid eggs. This year things got more serious. ‘A hole’ was observed by the moderators of the White-Bellied Sea Eagle Chat. On Tuesday, November 5, those same moderators observed that an egg was laid. This morning there is a second.

Despite the name referencing ‘black’, the adult ducks, who live only to about two years, have dark brown plumage. The coverts, which cover the very important flight feathers and help keep them smooth, are either pale yellow or white at the tips. The secondary feathers are green. The under wings are dark brown with feathers that have a yellow edge. The head features a brown crown with a pale yellow section running from the bill to the ear coverts (the feathers that protect the ear). There is a dark line running from the lores, the area between the eye and the bill, to the ear coverts.   Above and below are pale yellow areas running from the bill to the ear coverts. The bill is a dark grey. The image is of the female on the eggs below. You can see the lines running from the lores to the ear coverts easily. The bill in this image appears as a blue grey. The eyes are a deep brown. The bottom sides of the head are a lighter brown than on the body. Despite being more dull in colour than the male, this image of the female Black Pacific duck shows the beauty of her feathers and the magnificent emerald green patches on the wings.

A side view of the Black Pacific Duck sitting on her two eggs in the Ironwood Nest, Sydney Olympic Park with a lorikeet looking on.

Pacific Black Ducks only mate when there is secure quantities of food and water. They lay a clutch of eleven to thirteen eggs. Their environmental status is secure in Australia but, in reality, only about 20% of hatchlings survive to age two according to BirdLife Australia.

Why are Lorikeets so excited to see this Black Pacific Duck with her eggs? By looking at them jumping all over the branches of the tree and the one above sitting on the rim of the nest looking at the duck, you can imagine that something special is happening.

The Rainbow Lorikeet is a medium sized sweet natured parrot that is quite nosey. They are native to New South Wales where Sydney is located and farther South in Australia. They are extremely talkative and their high pitched screeches have been known to scare many. If you look at the featured image you will see right away why they are called ‘Rainbow’ Lorikeets. Their heads and bellies are a deep royal blue while a bright emerald green colour feathers on their wings, back, and heads. The red breasts have orange and yellow on the sides. Their beaks are red. Males and females have the same bright plumage and it is apparently difficult to differentiate the gender without DNA testing or a surgical procedure. They lives to be approximately thirty years. It is their inquisitive nature that has drawn them today to the large nest of the White-Bellied Sea Eagles currently occupied by the Black Pacific Duck.

White-Bellied Sea Eagles are the second largest bird of prey or raptor in Australia. The wingspan ranges from 1.8 – 2.2 metres or 6 to 7 feet. They can weigh up to 4.2 kilos or 9 pounds. The birds have reverse sex-size dimorphism meaning that the female is larger than the male. The nest you are looking at ‘belongs to’ Lady and Dad who have a river roost along the mangroves of the Parramatta River. The diameter of the nest is approximately 6.5 feet. Their breeding season is normally from June to January when they lay, on average, two eggs.

WBSE 25 (left) and WBSE 26 (right) in August. They are all covered with their baby down.
WBSE 25 (right) and WBSE 26 (left) in the nest before fledging. Notice the rich colour of the juvenile plumage. In five or six years they will get their adult feathers.

White-Bellied Sea Eagles are huge birds who live mostly on fish caught with their strong legs and held by their talons. The nests of the sea eagles is normally within a kilometre of a source of fish, either a lake or a river. Other prey brought to the nest includes eels, Silver-tipped Gulls, a fox cub in the 2020 season, a turtle, and various other opportunistic catches.

It is not uncommon for other birds to investigate the nest while the sea eagles raise their young. Many want to protect their own territory from these large raptors and that includes the small owl, the BooBook Owl who comes at night and often hits the parents roosting on the branches of the nest. The Currawong is noisy and chases the fledglings trying also to chase them out of the forest. Magpies are another nuisance. The adults flap their wings or chase them away. The eaglets quickly learn to protect their territory too often standing up in the nest, flapping their wings, and honking to get the intruders to leave. Normally, the sea eagles check their nest periodically when they scan their territory. They also bring in more sticks and leaves readying it for their next breeding season.

As the Rainbow Lorikeets circle the beautiful Black Pacific Duck in celebration and curiosity, we have to ask ourselves what will happen to this mother duck and her brood? Stay tuned.

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.

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.