Hatching

It is nearly -40 now and will be in the -50s with the wind chill in parts of Canada for a few more days but, when I looked at the map the deep blue desperately cold area dips way, way south. It includes the Bald Eagle nests on the Mississippi River near Fulton, Illinois, the Bald Eagle Nest in New Jersey, and it will touch on the nest of my favourite Red Tail Hawk family in Ithaca, New York. Thankfully, Big Red has not laid any eggs yet. Six more weeks to go! There is barely a spot that is not going to be well below normal. Perhaps the eagle nests in Florida have escaped this. Oh, I feel so sorry for all of the birds and the animals and despite the fact that I know they are extremely smart, I still worry about them. And, also, of course all the people including the many homeless in all of our communities.

In the past couple of days we have talked and seen those eggs cracking and new little fluff balls appearing. Instead of talking about it again, I am going to post a short little video by Dr. Christian Sasse. He lives in British Columbia. You might know of his magnificent photographs of the Bald Eagles around Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Oh, you can tell just looking at them that he loves those raptors. He made a very short video of the last moments of hatching. It is something that most of us will not ever be close enough to see. I do hope you enjoy it!

You already know that the first little eaglet has burst out of its shell at the Northeast Florida nest of Samson and Gabrielle. That other egg was really split but by 5pm 8 February (Monday), the eaglet had not hatched. You can see the crack in the egg and the grey fluff of the little one in the aerie. Gabrielle is working on the nest. You will see them venting and airing the nest. The adults may bring in greenery to help minimize insect issues. Nothing like having some rotting fish in a nest open to the sun and it is 30 degrees C. Can you imagine what that smells like? Whew.

NE Florida Eagle Cam, 5:02:24 pm 8 February 2021

Gabby’s little one, whose fluffy head you can see next to the egg of its sib, is very strong. It is standing up and eating great big bites of fish.

Oh, fish is good! NEFL Eagle cam, 9 February 2021.

Awwwwwww. Cuteness! I am so happy for Gabby and Samson. This is their second try this season. They, too, were the victim of a raven grab when Gabby needed to leave the nest and Samson wasn’t around. He is being super diligent this time!

The second egg is not showing any big changes to me. It is possible that it is not viable. There is a huge problem coming for the eagles. After 1970 when they were all but wiped out, there are now so many that there are not enough trees for them to nest in. That is the biggest reason we are seeing intruders in nests. I wonder if they will adapt to sharing like the Trio?

Gabby and Samson’s cutie pie. NEFL Eagle Cam, 9 February 2021.

Are you familiar with the word ‘carion’. No, I am not talking about a video game or a wood wind quartet, carion as in ‘road kill’. I joked with you yesterday but, in fact, I guess it isn’t a joke. People who love raptors talk about dead animals. And that brings me to the picture below. That is M15, the father of E17 (the little terror) and E18 (the sweet cutie) of the Southwest Florida Eagle nest on the property of the Pritchett Family.

I recall, not that long ago, having a discussion with someone about prey. They told me in no uncertain terms that eagles only eat fish. Now, let’s think about that. Didn’t we just see a bunny on the SWFL nest? and a possum up at Gabby and Samson’s place? The White-Bellied Sea Eagles even brought in a fox cub so that they could have a family feast with 25 and 26! That fox cub was carion, road kill. Oh, and Dad even brought in a turtle last year. The sea eaglets had no idea what to do with it but Lady did. Must have been very tasty. She did not offer Dad a single bite. The live streaming cams are certainly changing what we know about all of the birds. Things that everyone believed are being tested. Remember Solly from yesterday’s posting? Remember she flew inland and was 200 kilometres away from her nest. She is breaking records and we are learning something every day. Just like we do on the eagle nests.

Today, M15 has found ‘something’. The image is too grainy and he was way too far away for the cam operator to focus. But he fought with ‘it’ for awhile. At one time I really thought it was another large dark bird. It is definitely too big to get up to the nest whole. Maybe tomorrow M15 or Harriet will be able to rip off a piece of it so that we can see what they have found. One year Harriet brought an Anhinga into the nest. They are large birds with long sharp beaks that stab fish underwater. They are sometimes called the devil bird. I don’t think that is what M15 has but, who knows?

M15 around 5pm in West Pasture with carion. 8 February 2021. Thanks to SWFL Eagle cam and D. Pritchett.

Harriet caught a fish in the morning. Between her and the eaglets, it didn’t last long. Not a flake left! It was a really not day and that fish gave the little ones much needed hydration.

Harriet went fishing in pond and brought home a nice one.

But look where E18 got himself. At first I just held my breath thinking he would get his leg caught and would not be able to get out. Or he was going to fall out of that nest. But this was a great move. 18 has the perfect location to be fed without any bother from 17. There is even a pokey stick between them.

I would just as soon they didn’t try to get up on the rim of the nest though. It is pretty nerve wrecking watching.

When Harriet finished, they both passed out in food comas. Keep them full and happy.

A great close up. Looks like their eyes are all healed without any relapses. Fantastic! And the egg tooth seems to be gone now.

Is it possible for a raptor’s talons to be cute?

Ah, and they are so sweet when they are sleeping. Best buddies. Makes my heart melt.

What a great way to close the blog today with this cuddle puddle!

Cuddle Puddle

Stay inside if you are in the area of the Polar Vortex. Call for help if you need it. Which reminds me. Keep your phone charged! I will check in on the nests in the area of the cold later today and give you a short update.

Thank you for dropping by. It is so wonderful to know there are so many people who love birds.

And thank you to the NEFL Eagle Cam and the SWFL Eagle Cam and D. Pritchett family for the streaming cameras where I took my scaps.

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.

It’s Nearly Mother’s Day and I tip my hat to Big Red, a 17-year-old Red Tail Hawk for “Mother of the Year 2020”

If my mother were alive, I hope that she would understand why I am so adamant that a Raptor Formel should be nominated for Mother of the Year 2020.  It was, after all, my mother who carried the duck my father had given me to my grandmother’s every day on her way to work.  There the duck lived in a specially designed ‘cage’ or stayed in the hen house.  On occasion, the duck would join my grandmother and me for a swing on the porch. I know that my grandmother would approve as she had a fondness for all living creatures, as did my dad.

2020 is a very unusual year.  Since the end of 2019, the international community has been paralysed by COVID-19 that has killed nearly three million people as I type this.  Many are without jobs or health insurance.  Entire countries and cities have been under various levels and length of lockdown.  The funeral homes cannot handle the number of dead.  Hospitals have run out of protective gear for healthcare employees.  And there remains uncertainty from world leaders on how to continue to manage this virus.  Is it safe for people to be outside amongst one another?  or should we be locked down longer? When will a vaccine be available? When will people be able to travel? When will schools open? Will people have jobs? Will there be enough food?  The level of anxiety, coupled with the number of people working from home, has caused people to seek solace in cooking, reading, and learning.  Many have turned to nature with the number of individuals watching bird cams sometimes more than five times the norm.  I am one of those people.  I have a fondness for hawks ever since I first stood about a half metre away from a female Sharp-shinned hawk in our garden three years ago.  That moment had a transformative impact on my fondness for these regal birds of prey.

In early March I began following the exploits of a pair of Redtail hawks with their nest on the ledge outside the office of the President of New York University.  They were Aurora and her new mate, Orion.  Having laid three eggs, the pair took turns incubating them so the other could eat.  On the morning of March 26, Aurora did not return.  She did not return that evening nor the next day.  Everyone was in tears and devastated beyond belief.  That pair of hawks symbolised hope for the people watching who were living in the hardest-hit area of the United States at the time.  The virus was so harmful and so many people were dying that the parks were being turned into field hospitals and temporary burial grounds.  One of the members suggested that we switch our attention to the Bird Cams run by Cornell University.  And that is how I met “Big Red.”

Big Red is specifically a Buteo jamaicensis.  Technically this is the order Accipitriformes, and the family is the Accipitridae.  Leaving the fancy language aside, Big Red belongs to one of the most common hawk families in North America.  There are approximately two million.  The birds, along with their nests, eggs, and feathers are protected by treaties on migratory birds throughout the Americas.

Big Red was born in 2003 and was banded in Brooktondale, New York that fall.  When you look at pictures of her, you will notice that she has a large dark red head, nape, and throat and the most magnificent red tail feathers.  She currently resides on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York with her mate, Arthur.  Redtail hawks mate for life.  Arthur was born and fledged in 2016, making him a whole thirteen years younger than Big Red!  Arthur and Big Red completed their first breeding season in 2018; this is their third year for successfully raising chicks.  Arthur has a real pale head, chest and nape, not unlike the notorious Pale Male from Central Park in New York City.  For the last two months, this pair of hawks taught me so much and inspired so many others at a time when the world needed something beautiful.

Big Red is the epitome of dogged persistence and dedication to the task of taking care of her nest, incubating her eggs, brooding and feeding her chicks, and being a model for them for their successful life as raptors.  Since the first records at Cornell in 2012, Big Red has successfully raised twenty-one chicks!  There could be almost that many more uncounted – before the cameras – from 2006 (?) through 2011.

Big Red and Arthur are often seen in the late fall inspecting their nest which is eighty feet above the ground on a lighting tower on the campus of Cornell University.  Hawk nests can get very quiet high and wide as the couple continue to refurbish and redecorate annually. Typically, hawks have one nest, but Big Red and Ezra actually have two. For the last couple of years, they have favoured their current nest.

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Sticks and twigs ranging in size between eight inches and fourteen inches are carried from the ground to the site in anticipation of eggs being laid.  Redtail hawks lay between one to four eggs depending on the local food supply.  Typically, Big Red has a clutch of three eggs. Redtail hawks usually incubate their eggs from 28-35 days although in 2012 Big Red sat on her eggs for 35-38 days with the longest being 42 days in 2013.

Observing the weather in Ithaca, New York made me quite happy, actually, to be living in Winnipeg.  There were quite a few days where it was frosty with snow, but on April 17, Big Red found herself encased in ice and snow as she incubated her eggs, ensuring the survival of her chicks.

Below are the three eggs in the clutch. Big Red laid egg number 3 at 1: 23 pm on March 24.  She immediately “told Arthur” and began incubating the clutch.  Both Big Red and Arthur take turns sitting on the eggs until they hatch.

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There are several things to notice in this image.  The first is the nest bowl which is lined with soft materials.  Big Red and Arthur will continually maintain the nest bowl, making sure that it is big enough to hold the checks and that they cannot harm their tiny legs and talons.  Second, notice the pine.  The hawks bring these into the nest in preparation for the hatching of the chicks.  They help keep flies and their larvae away and protect the chicks from disease caused by flies.  And third, the bottom left egg has a pip, and the chick is beginning to use its body to crack the shell.  Pipping is when the chick first breaks through the shell with its “egg tooth”.  Sometimes it takes the chick up to twenty-four hours to completely break out of its shell.

pipping red tail hawk

It takes a lot of energy to hatch, and the newborn chicks are often tired for the first day of their lives.  Before long, however, their feathers will have dried off, and they will be covered with white fluff.

J1 hatching and J2 pipping

At first, the chick’s eyes do not focus well, and they do not quite understand what “food” really is and who is feeding them.  There is an awful lot of pecking and bonking that goes on with the siblings.  This settles down after about four or five days.

The chicks are not given names.  They are assigned letters of the alphabet.  In 2012, when Cornell University first installed its hawk cameras, the chicks were given the letter C after Cornell.  In 2013, the chicks were given D and so on until 2020 when the chicks have been given the letter J.

In the image below, the first hatched chick, J1, is trying to take a bite out of J2’s head!

Two chicks

J1 and J2 tiny fighting over a small piece of meat

3 chicks

It is up to Arthur to bring food for Big Red and the chicks.  Arthur’s territory is abundant.  Until the chicks fledge, he will bring chipmunks, squirrels, pigeons, Starlings, snakes, voles, and rabbits to the pantry.  There is never a shortage and viewers have been surprised – shocked even – at the plentiful supply of animals and at the talents of both Arthur and Big Red at hunting.  She has, in fact, brought some meals back with her when she has gone off the nest for a bit.

Arthur filling up pantry on May 1

These chicks have a lot of food security, thanks to the excellent hunting skills of Arthur and Big Red.  The rails to keep them in the natal nest are made out of their dinner.  Pine is scattered about to keep away the flies, and sometimes you could see the chicks sleeping with their head on a furry pelt.

all the food

Big Red fed and kept her chicks warm during a period of dangerous wind and heavy rain on May 1. I don’t think anyone slept that night and there was certainly a lot of emotion, even tears.

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wet2

And she has patiently made sure that each and every chick, from the first to hatch J1 to the tiny J3, is fed.

Here the three of them are lined up for an afternoon meal.  Little J3 is front and right with J2 front left.  J1 is behind both.  The trio managed to eat an entire chipmunk!  That was just one meal.  Big Red is feeding them a lot.  She still spends the night brooding, keeping those chicks toasty warm.  Soon they will sleep on their own at night.  Eventually, they will jump and flap their wings, preparing to fledge.  By then they will also be eating on their own, and Big Red and Arthur will courier food to the nest throughout the day.

3 lined up for a feeding

By the middle of June, all of the 2020 chicks will have fledged.  They will spend the summer learning how to hunt, and by fall they will be gone to find their own territory.  At the age of two, they will get their distinctive red tail feathers, and by three, they will have families of their own.

In the meantime, Big Red and Arthur will enjoy being empty nesters, and by late fall they will again repair their nest on the Cornell campus in preparation for 2021!

All of us who have gotten to know this hawk family and to learn a little about raptor behaviour have been inspired by the sheer dedication Big Red has maintained during the most horrid of weather.  We have watched J1 grow to be four times the size of “Little J3”. We have worried that the little one might be left out.  This was decidedly not the case!  J3 is right up there, and Big Red makes sure each is fed well, that they are safe and warm.  She is currently teaching them to preen their feathers and by observation, J1 today began flapping its wings.