We have lift off – Big Red laid her first egg

For the past month, Arthur and Big Red have been arriving early to restore their nest on the Fernow Light Tower on the grounds of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. By yesterday, that nest was looking rather amazing. The egg cup was nicely lined with strips of bark and there were even some berries and pine needles. The question remaining in everyone’s mind was: when will Big Red lay her first egg?

Big Red and Arthur are Red Tail Hawks. The scientific names is Buteo jamaicensis. You will find these hawks across North America. Those that breed and lay their eggs where I live – in Manitoba, Canada – only reside with us during the late spring, summer, and early fall. They will migrate to warmer climates for the winter just like the Ospreys in the United Kingdom. Big Red and Arthur do not migrate. They remain in Ithaca throughout the year. They have a territory that is normally rich in prey.

Big Red is 18 years old this spring. She was tagged at Brooktondale, New York in 2003. Arthur will be five years old this spring. Birders on the ground knew him as a nestling in 2016; a chick from an adjacent territory near to the cemetery in Ithaca. He is often called the nickname he was given then, ‘Wink’. His real name is, however, Arthur. Arthur and Big Red have been a bonded pair since the death of Big Red’s long time mate, Ezra, in 2017. Big Red chose Arthur to be her mate in the fall of 2017 before he even had his red tails! Many thought that she was making a huge mistake but Big Red has proven over and over again that she knew precisely what she was doing. So far the streaming cam on her nest has helped to re-write our understanding of Red-Tail Hawk behaviour. As we go through the season, I will point out all the things that Big Red is teaching us. For today, however, let it suffice to say that an eighteen year old Red Tail Hawk can still lay eggs!

The image below is from the nest tower cam over the track at Cornell.

The nest cup – where the eggs are laid – is lined with tree park and pine. You can see this in the image below. Pine is traditionally an insecticide to keep the flies away. You will see the couple bringing in a lot of pine branches til the eyases fledge. Eyas is the singular and eyases is the plural form of falcons or hawks in the nest.

It was 21 degrees and the wind was blowing at 31 kph or 19.26 mph. All eyes were on the Fernow Tower nest. Big Red arrived at 11:46 alone.

She was acting peculiar. And we all held our breath. Might this be the day?

It is unclear precisely when Big Red laid her first egg or how long her labour was but by 12:51 everyone watching knew there was an egg!

The wind was blowing so strong that many were reminded of when Big Red was blown off her nest during the 2020 season. And we all wished that the sun would come out and it would be calm. Big Red has been through so much.

Red tail hawks typically lay a clutch of 2-3 eggs. Last year, Big Red and Arthur fledged three healthy chicks, the Js. This year it will be the Ks. If all goes to schedule, Big Red will lay an egg every other day. She can lay three eggs in four days. Traditionally she does not begin hard incubation until all eggs are in the nest.

For many, watching this nest will be the joy of their days. If you would like to join thousands watching Big Red and Arthur, here is the link to the Cornell Streaming Cam:

Big Red has already been busy rolling that egg and tweaking the egg cup. We are waiting for Arthur to arrive so she can tell him the good news!

Thank you for joining me today. My passion for these beautiful hawks will be coming through from now until August. Updates on other nests later today.

Thank you, as always, to the Cornell Bird Lab for the streaming cameras (there are two) on the Fernow Tower.