So many people began watching streaming bird cams last year as the pandemic set in around the world. It is hard to believe sometimes that a year or more has passed. It feels like a blink. The ‘time’ has simply melted between our fingers. The very first streaming cam that I watched was after my encounter with the Sharp-shinned Hawk in my garden in January 2018. It was a camera focused on the ledge of a building that belonged to City University in New York and it was a pair of Red-Tail Hawks. There was tragedy on that nest with the male dying and the female having to raise the three eyases alone. Then there was a new male and three eggs last year and the female was killed by rat poison. The nest was abandoned. Besides having my own cat, Duncan, killed by rodenticide it was that death that stirred a desire to end the use of designer anti-coagulating poisons. Shortly after someone suggested that I check out the streaming cam for the Red Tail Hawks at Ithaca. And so, I began just as the resident female hawk was laying her first egg. March 2020. If you read my post regularly, you will have heard about Big Red and Arthur. Still many of you might know be aware of this amazing couple and so, I will give you a very brief introduction.
The nest on the light stand at the Cornell University campus stadium is getting readied for the 2021 season of the Big Red and Arthur show. Big Red is the eighteen year old resident Red Tail Hawk matriarch. Arthur is her five year old mate. Big Red has been raising chicks in this territory for eons. She was hatched in Brooktondale, New York in 2003 and was banded that first fall. The distance between Ithaca and Brooktondale is 7.4 miles. Her mate, before Arthur, was Ezra. Ezra was born at Judd Falls just outside of Ithaca. It is known that Ezra and Big Red raising eyases from 2012, the year that the streaming camera was installed and 2016. He was killed defending Big Red in March 2017. It is believed that Ezra and Big Red had raised eyases for several seasons before the camera was installed. Precisely how many no one knows. Arthur was born in 2016 in an adjacent territory of a family of RTHs to that of Big Red. There is camera footage of him visiting an empty light stand nest in April 2017. By the fall, just as Arthur is getting his red tail, him and Big Red become a couple. They visit the light stand nest in November. They have successfully fledged all of their eyases for three years. This season will be their fourth.
It is approximately three to four weeks til the first egg will be laid and today there were five visits to the nest to make nestorations. Arthur started bringing twigs in at 9:13 and again at 9:34.
After bringing in some more greenery and twigs, Arthur checks out the nest bowl to see if he thinks Big Red will approve.
At 16:26, Big Red arrives for her inspection.
Arthur immediately joins her to get further instructions!
Big Red does a lot of shimmies and twists and seems to approve of the work that has been done on the nest cup.
Looking adoringly at Big Red, Arthur listens intently to all of her instructions.
She has Arthur try the nest bowl so he can understand what else needs to be done. ‘Arthurrrrrrrrrr….you have to get these rails higher or those kids will fall out and land on the cars!’
Big Red departs and leaves him to it.
Arthur came back twice – at 16:46 and again at 16:58 delivering large twigs.
Arthur continues to bring in sticks and break them with his feet and with his very sharp beak. No doubt he will be back at it Saturday morning. There will be no weekends off! Big Red will be laying her eggs and incubating them through rain, snow, sleet, and hail if this season is anything like last year. And while she is doing that, Arthur will be delivering prey. So much prey, in fact, that you will not believe there could be another chipmunk left in Ithaca! Arthur knows and Big Red will remember that there is nothing nicer than having a fur lined nest, too. Helps keep those babies warm in Upstate New York!
I highly recommend this nest to all of you. It is a fabulous way to see the behaviour and the life stages of the Red Tail Hawk. After fledging, there are several people on the ground that take photos and post videos, often live, of the juveniles. Last year we saw many teaching moments when Big Red and Arthur joined together, for example, for a family hunting day. These are two fabulous hawk parents that work together so well. They are always in tune with one another and their eyases thrive because of it.
Today’s ‘brief’ focus is on Wandering Albatross. This is because the British Arctic Survey and the Albatross Task Force have just posted Nova’s tracking. Yes, she is being monitored by a satellite transmitter, just like Solly. Today, Nova is feeding near the Patagonian Shelf off the coast of Argentina.
The Wandering Albatross is also known as the Snowy Albatross and it has the largest with a wingspan of 3.4 metres or 11.15 feet. They weigh between 8 and 12 kilograms or from 17.6 lbs to 26.45 lbs. In other words, they are enormous compared to many of the other seabirds. They live and breed on remote islands such as South Georgia or smaller islands in the Southern Ocean. The word ‘live’ is misleading. The albatross spend all their time on the ocean except during breeding season, laying and incubating eggs, and raising the chick. Like all Albatross the parents take turns feeding the little one. And, like the Northern Royal Albatross, most will take a year off between breeding so that they can rebuild their bodies. They will spend that time foraging in the Southern Oceans. Like the Kakapo in my last posting, Albatross can live for a very long time. Some are older than sixty years while many never reach their first birthday.
The vast majority of the deaths are entirely caused by humans except for the fur seals who eat the vegetation on the islands. The Wandering Albatross spend the majority of their life on the high seas foraging for food, mostly squid but some fish. As well, they are carried great distances by the high winds. Because of this they have the potential to come into contact with many different legal and illegal fishing trawlers. These beautiful seabirds get caught in the long fishing lines or get trapped in gill nets and are killed. But, they don’t have to be. There are some easy solutions. These include the use of streamers, brightly coloured metallic streamers like people use to play with their cats, only a much larger size will scare the birds away. An even easier solution is to set the fishing lines at night. The third is to weigh down the lines so that they sink very quickly. Normally, they are so long and stay near the surface with their bait that the Wandering Albatross see the fish and want to eat it. The Seabird Task Force is working with fleets of boats from Spain to use demersal longlines. These catch fish at the bottom of the ocean and have been proven to be effective against bycatch.
The following graphic made by the Albatross Task force shows you how long lines and gillnets attract the seabirds.
Nova’s transmitter will, like Solly’s, let the researchers know where she is foraging for squid and fish. And because there are satellite maps of the locations of legal fishing trawlers, many of the Albatross with transmitters have helped to locate illegal fishing fleets. I do not condone industrial fishing and definitely not illegal boats that churn out fish from the ocean on a 24/7 basis but you would think that if they were illegally fishing they would want to have all of the safe systems in place so as not to have the Albatross with the transmitters be attracted to their boats.
What can you do to help? If you are concerned about the fish you eat, you can go to seafoodwatch.org for lists of sustainably caught fish. You can also learn to read the labels. Look for the red and blue label ‘Friends of the Sea’ or the blue and white label ‘Marine Stewardship Council’. Friends of the Sea has lots of information on its Website about what they are doing to make the information about the fish you eat more transparent. Have a look!
Arthur and Big Red were both at the nest on the grounds of Cornell University in Ithaca chipping away at the snow and ice that formed overnight. For the next month they will be restoring the nest of the Js and getting it ready for the Ks. Oh, this is such a sweet couple. They work so well together.
Bonnie, the Great Horned Owl, the owl that everyone loves, still has occupancy rights. The Bald Eagles have, so far, not attempted to kick her out of their nest. She sure has had it a lot easier than Daisy the Duck. In part that is thanks to the cold. There is currently no snow falling and the sun is out. The temperature has risen to 8 degrees F which is a lot warmer than the -7 F temperatures yesterday. Let’s hope that her mate is able to scare her up a nice fat mouse for dinner today. He had trouble finding prey yesterday.
The torrential rains that fell on the NEFL Eagle nest near St Augustine last night are gone. The sun is out and Gabby has been busy venting the nest while keeping the little one close to her in the shade. Samson did a terrific job bringing in all the fish yesterday ahead of that storm. He is now my official weatherman for this nest!
When I first checked the twins over at the SWFL nest in Fort Myers, I couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended. They are very much looking like their dinosaur ancestors if they get their bodies positioned just right.
Ah, it is always nice when E17 is full and passed out so that E18 can get a private fish feeding! All is well on the SWFL nest. Just hot like it is for Gabby and Samson over at St Augustine.
So far, that E18 has been eating solid for twenty minutes! The adult tried to stop and clean its beak and E18 indicated ‘nope, I am still hungry’. The image looks the same but it isn’t. E18 is simply not moving. You can see that 17 has shifted its wing a bit. The little one wants his private fish dinner while 17 is passed out in a food coma. So smart. These little underdogs that get picked on often turn out to be highly creative. After all, it is all about surviving.
And no. That parent is not going to be able to eat that fish or leave because now E17, the oldest, is awake and wants some more too! Fresh fish must taste a whole lot better than week old dry catfish!
It is also a time when they are growing and changing so much that their consumption of food is increasing steadily. But, I just love it. There is something about seeing a parent have food in the nest and filling the babies up that just makes life so much more serene.
In the image below, the oldest one, the one that picks on the little one, is now up getting some more fish and the little one, E18 is acting like it is the caboose. But wait! That older one is full quick and now the little one is back up at the feet of the parent. E18 has learned if it pecks at the feet of the parent it gets fed. Wonder if he will get another twenty minute feeding?
E18 kept tapping on the parents talons and the parent is now feeding him again. I think this little one is going to stay there and eat every last flake of that fish even if its crop almost bursts!
The wind is really blowing over in Big Bear California but the sun is shining and there isn’t any snow. Jackie and Shadow are really happy about that. It is so nice to see the weather improving. Jackie and Shadow lost their first clutch of three eggs and Jackie is incubating the second clutch of two eggs. I hope everything goes well for this great couple.
And, oh, my goodness. We can see the nest at Duke Farms. For more than two weeks, this poor eagle has been snowed in. How amazing. There is another system moving through on Wednesday. Let us hope that it bypasses New Jersey and gives this mom a break. She is incubating three eggs – three!
I wanted some news of the Trio since Starr laid her first egg on Valentine’s Day for the Valors. The only person going in and out is this amazing photographer Dennis Brecht. The image below was taken by him and I hope that it is OK to use it since it was posted on the Trios FB page.
I would love to know what the conversation is between the three of them. Starr, the female, is the one standing up with her wings spread. Valor II is to the left and Valor I has his beak open. From the recent history of this nest, I understand that Valor I does not like sharing incubation duties. He wants to do it all by himself. But so do Starr and Valor II. Starr might even want to get on there to lay another egg! Too funny. Remember this is the guy I called the ‘Dead Beat Dad’. Look at him now. Wow.
Thanks for checking in today. Everyone appears to be doing fine. Temperatures appear to be warming up in places and we hope that they stay that way. These birds are so intelligent and beautiful. But they need to eat and those little critters hunker down in the cold! But I wish you could see the smile on my face. That little E18 melts my heart. When he was brought back from the clinic and crawled over to Harriet, his mom, well, it was priceless. I sleep a lot easier when I know that he is full to the brim!
Stay safe everyone! See you tomorrow.
Thank you to the Albatross Task Force for the images of Nova. Thank you to the streaming cams at NEFL, SWFL, Big Bear, Duke Farms, Pritchett Real Estate and Farms, Farmer Derek’s and Cornell RTH. Thank you so much to Dennis Brecht for getting out in the storm and posting the picture of the Trio on FB.
I want to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Welcome’ to all of you. I do not know how you found this site but I am very grateful that you did. You and I share a passion for birds. We are curious about their lives. People from around the world have joined with you and me to learn about the challenges these fascinating creatures face. We have experienced their triumphs and cried at their loss. Collectively we wept when the Ravens made off with Daisy the Duck’s eggs. Together we worried whether or not Harriet and M15 would accept their little eaglets once they were returned from the wildlife rehabilitation centre. And today we marvel at how these magnificent creatures manage when they are severely injured like our Warrior Eagle in the care of A Place Called Hope tonight. Each of us wonders how we can make their lives a little easier because as each of us knows – the birds bring so much joy into our lives.
The Polar Vortex is causing extreme weather in Canada and the United States. Europe is also experiencing an extremely cold Arctic air mass that is causing temperatures to plunge. Seattle has had more snow today than they have had in fifty years. In Norman Oklahoma where I grew up, they have more snow than I have in Canada. It is hot and hotter in Florida. These extremes are unprecedented and there will be another system rolling through on Wednesday. That is what the meteorologist on CNN was saying a few minutes ago. Wonder what our birds would say if we could communicate with them?
I am not someone who sits and normally watches the weather as closely as I have for the past several days or a week. Sometimes the days just melt together and you look up and seriously, a week or more has passed as quickly as if you snapped your fingers. So why do I care? Because these severe weather challenges impact every aspect of our feathered friends lives.
This is what it looked like yesterday on the Mississippi River. The image is grainy but if you look carefully, you will see an elongated dark blob with a white head – those are your adult Bald Eagles! And this is near the nest of the Trio up near Fulton, Illinois. The eagles are there not just because of the magnificent old trees but also because there are fish in that river.
Speaking of The Trio, you have only been able to see them from a distance since their tree was destroyed during the heavy winds last year. They have been busy fitting up another one for this breeding season. In celebration of Valentine’s Day someone posted an image of the Trio from last May. Aren’t they just a gorgeous threesome? Starr and her two Valors. They aren’t all lined up proper but you can see how much larger Starr is compared to the two males. Just a beautiful family working it out so that their eaglets grow healthy and thrive.
One of the things I learned last year observing a Red Tail Hawk nest is that the more prey that is brought into the nest the better the offspring do. They grow bigger and healthier. Their feathers are stronger. Researchers have been comparing the amount and type of prey on that RTH nest on the Cornell Campus since 2012. Last spring with the pandemic and a four year old male that is a psychopathic hunter, Arthur brought in almost twice the amount of prey from any other previous year. It is assumed that the presence of humans on the campus impacts the chipmunk population negatively. (People run over them with their cars or scare them away.) These cold temperatures will also impact the intake of food negatively right now. It will add stressors to the birds (and all other animals as well as humans). The advantage for the Trio is that they have an additional eagle to hunt or protect the nest – both much needed.
And that is going to be very helpful now. What you are seeing is an early morning exchange. Yes, Starr laid an egg in that nest for the Valors on Valentine’s Day! How special is that. And, apparently, she laid her first egg of the 2020 season on Valentine’s Day, too.
I don’t know if you have ever thought about it but the ‘normal’ (what is normal anymore????) laying eggs and hatch is normally linked to the onset of spring when all the babies hatch. The prey is waking up from their winter hibernation and there is lots of food. The problem right now is first the bitterly cold winds, the snow that is gathering on nests, and the availability of food.
As you can see in the image below the snowing is getting deeper on that Bald Eagle nest near Kansas City. And as you know, that nest is currently being occupied by a Great Horned Owl who is incubating eggs. She has been on the nest a little over a week. At 3pm today, it was snowing and as you can see it was 0 degrees F. I just checked the temperature there and it is now -7. These are simply temperatures that are unknown. No one is prepared for them. The mice and squirrels that these owls eat hunker down just like everyone else trying to stay warm.
When I posted the picture above it was snowing and 0. It is currently -9 and the snow is actually getting deeper on this nest. These poor animals are not used to this kind of weather but I am told that is what feathers are for. Those eggs are comfy and toasty. That is the benefit of being in the centre of that great big eagle nest. It will hold in some of the heat. I wonder if the owls knew this big storm was coming when they decided to occupy this eagle nest? Owls are smart!
Three other updates for you this morning. Despite the snow on the ground, Big Red, my most favourite Red Tail Hawk in the world is 18 years old this spring. She was banded at Brooktondale, New York, in 2003. She has been at her nest on the light tower on the Cornell Campus in Ithaca, New York this morning bringing in twigs to do some nestorations. You will hear a lot about her and Arthur. I adore this family.
Big Red has some of the most beautiful rich red plumage. You can see her beautiful red tail that indicates she is an adult Red Tail Hawk. The juveniles do not get these until after their first moult.
Big Red lost her long time mate, Ezra, in March of 2017. He was killed protecting her from intruders. She did not raise any eyases that year. But she met Arthur in April of 2017. Apparently Big Red had a lot of suitors. She is a fantastic mother and has an amazing territory. Instead of selecting an older male, she picked Arthur. Everyone thought that the bird was crazy! Arthur was born in 2016. But, by the fall when he had his beautiful red tail they were a couple. He won her over with his flying, hunting, and protecting abilities. Arthur is simply one amazing hunter. A hawk with a jetpack on his wings. And he is one of the best providers I have seen in the bird world. Big Red trained him right.
Have some fun watching this video. Each year the chicks are given a letter of the alphabet for their name. Last year was J. So there were three of them: J1, J2, and J3. They all fledged. J1, the oldest and largest and for sure a female who loved to play with her twigs and work on the nest was reluctant to fledge. She left right after her little buddy J3. Oh, the three of them stayed together and played with pinecones and learned how to hunt. Sadly, J1 was killed when she flew into a building window on the Cornell Campus. I am still not sure that I am over that. It was so avoidable. Because of that you will hear me often talk about window strike and what big businesses and you can do to help stop the birds from flying into your windows.
This year we will welcome the Ks. Eggs normally laid in March with hatch around the end of April.
The Bald Eagle fighting for its life because of high levels of lead and two old injuries – the Warrior Eagle – is eating well this morning. A friend asked if they will be able to return him to the wild. If he survives, that is a good question. I am sure he will be observed closely to see how he can eat with his injured beak. It is an old injury but that may, in part, have lead to an inability to hunt well enough to thrive. Here he is this morning. He is finishing up his breakfast. He is doing so well. Keep sending your good wishes his way. It’s working!
Thank you for joining me today. It is cold in Canada but the sun is out and it is bringing me joy just as the good news on our birds is today. Everyone of our birds is OK. They are monitoring little E24s eyes to make sure he gets to the vet if needed. — And it is definitely a good day when they are all fine or fine and improving.
Stay warm and well. See you tomorrow.
Thanks to A Place for Hope for their images of the Warrior Eagle, to the Cornell Lab’s streaming Red Hawk camera for the images and video of Big Red and Arthur’s highlights of last year. Derek the Farmer provides the streaming camera for the owl in the eagle’s nest and for those individuals who posted the updates on the Trio, thank you.
After the Ravens had eaten or taken her eggs, Daisy was confused. She ate bits of shell, cleaned up some of the down, looked like she was digging a hole to the bottom of the tree trying to find her eggs, and then filled the nest cup and flew away. Everyone thought that was the last anyone would see of our little Daisy. But, no. She returned to the nest at 20:19, just after sunset. She stayed until 22:46:22. She has not returned.
Daisy is more than a Pacific Black Duck. She is more than a little duck that happened upon a huge nest in the forest and decided to lay her eggs there. Daisy is more than the little duck that thwarted and confused the big White-Bellied Sea Eagles.
Daisy laid her eggs at the beginning of January. Before that there had been tremendous sadness and angst. Just about six weeks earlier, the people who watched the two little eaglets, WBSE 25 and 26, said goodbye to ’26’. Shortly after 26 was born, it appeared that the tiny little fluff ball had a problem with its right leg. No one ever believed that 26 would be able to stand, or walk, or feed itself, or fly, or land on a branch, or fledge. But 26 did it all, in great pain, with feet whose coverings had been torn off in places. Six days after 26 fledged, she returned to the natal nest. Her parents cared for her and she rested and ate. Being in the forest had been traumatizing. One day, unexpectedly, 26 flew out of the nest over to the camera tree where she was harassed by the Pied Currawong. A Magpie even came to help 26 fend them off but, in the end, they chased 26 out of the forest. A storm was coming that night and the next day 26 was discovered on the balcony of a condo 22 stories up in Homebush Bay. She was about a kilometre from the nest. Everyone was so pleased when the wildlife rehabbers, WIRES, were called to evaluate her condition. They were the group that helped the koalas during the fires the year before. We all believed that 26 would get the veterinary care that we had hoped would come. Unfortunately, the leg was broken and it had healed poorly. 26 was in great agony and she was euthanized. It broke everyone’s heart.
The photo below is one of the last images of 26. The Magpie has come to help 26 keep the Pied Currawong away.
I don’t think that we had even gotten over the numbness of 26’s death when one of our dear friends was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was this lovely woman who kept us laughing and brought sunshine into our lives. Phyllis was shattered with the death of 26.
Not long after a little duck came into all of our lives. It could not have been a more perfect time. Daisy offered a much needed diversion for Phyllis and all of us. Many felt that Daisy was ‘an angel’. Phyllis took over the ‘Duck’ chat on the ‘Duck camera’ and answered all of our questions. She was on ‘chat’ first thing in the morning to greet everyone and answer questions, and late at night. Tonight, Phyllis is gutted as so many others are. Daisy represented not just a diversion for Phyllis but also something more. There was an innocence about the little duck having her nest on the big sea eagle’s. In a way she washed away the ugliness of the pandemic and gave everyone something to look forward to: Daisy and her eggs had lived another day. We began to make up stories about how we would assist Daisy and the ducklings to the ground, how they might be escorted through the forest to safety at the river. And our dear friend, gr8lakes even thought that Daisy might want some toys for her babies. There was a lot of fun and a whole bunch of joking. That little duck brought such joy.
Phyllis wrote a poem for Daisy:
Our dear Daisy Duck , ever so sweet
Picking out her lovely penthouse suite
Maybe not the best idea she ever had
Because lurking nearby were Lady and Dad
Patiently we waited for ducklings to appear
But Nature brought us all to tears
Daisy I’m sure will have another clutch
I hope she knows we loved her ever so much
For some, the death of 26 was just the beginning of a long line of sadness. The two lovely eaglets born at the Captiva Bald Eagle nest died. A necropsy is being performed but the cause is most likely to be rodenticide. It was, of course, entirely preventable. This rat poison that kills more than rats and eagles kills family pets and other animals. It should be banned. There are other actually more effective ways to get rid of rodents including bringing in hawks and owls. The eaglets were called Hope and Peace. Peace had a piece of fishing line wrapped around her that had a hook. It must have been inside one of the fish that the parents brought in to feed their babies. That line was seen on camera, reported, and the wildlife rehabbers had permission to go to the eaglet and remove it. But, just about that same time, little Peace began to fail. And she died. Eleven days later, Hope, who was a big strapping eaglet flapping her wings one morning, died that afternoon from a broken blood feather. The blood did not coagulate because something Hope had eaten had rodenticide in its system. The father, Joe, removed the body of Peace after a few days of mourning. When Hope died, the mother, Connie, stood over her body poking her to see if there was any life at all. The parents stayed on the nest looking down at their child in complete disbelief and confusion. The wildlife rehabbers removed the body of Hope to find out what had happened. There is now a major campaign to ban rodenticide and to update some archaic wildlife laws that call for a 24 hour wait time to get help for wildlife in danger. That law was written in the 1940s. If passed, the campaigners would like it to be called Hope’s Law.
The image below shoes Hope with her mother looking out over their territory. Hope was getting her juvenile brown colouring. This picture was taken the day before she died.
Hope was jumping around and testing her wings only a few hours before she bled to death.
Ever wonder if birds mourn? Many of you know about Ravens and Crows but Bald Eagles do, too.
Connie stands over the body of Hope as Joe looks out to their territory.
As this was happening in Florida, two other eaglets in Texas died of what also appears to be rodenticide poisoning. And just today, one of the most famous Bald Eagle couples, Harriet and M15, in Fort Myers, Florida, had their two eaglets removed by CROW (the wildlife rehabbers) because of their crusted eyes. Swabs have been taken and the eyes have been cleaned. E 17 and E18 were also given antibiotics and fed. They will remain in the care of CROW until the test results return. In the meantime all attention will go towards getting them back with their distraught parents as soon as possible.
Wild life rehabbers understand that the parents will accept their babies up to eleven days. Then it is very tricky. This year we watched Diamond and Xavier a pair of mated Peregrine Falcons look for their Izzi after he had hit a window in early flying lessons and was taken into care. The Australian researcher returned Izzi to the scrape box after his being away for five days for him to fledge again. Xavier and Diamond were joyous and accepted him immediately.
Three people that I know warned me that I had to have a really thick skin if I wanted to get involved with my beloved Red Tail Hawks. Later, when another friend was too upset when one of the juvenile red tails from Ithaca died because she flew into a window on one of the Cornell campus buildings, I told her, “Don’t get said, get mad. And do something about it”. That death of a gorgeous healthy female was entirely preventable. The building is near to the road and the place where the juveniles learn to fly that J1 broke her neck. It is time that all public buildings and corporate skyscrapers are required to have special glass to prevent bird strike. Mandate it on all new builds and get the owners of the other buildings to come into the programme with incentives.
Daisy gave everyone hope. 2020 was a difficult year for the entire world and we closed it with the anticipation that life in 2021 might be better for everyone. There are vaccines for the pandemic that might work but closer to home, people put their faith in a little duck and some baby eaglets. All of the birds have taught us a lot but one thing we all know that life is not to be taken for granted. Hold on to it, every minute because it can slip away as quickly as you can snap your finger.
For the past week I have been posting information on how we can all join in and make our environment friendlier to birds. The tips and the ongoing discussion with my chatters on the Cornell RTH FB page have been enriching. Those posts were a way of remembering J1, the eldest chick of Big Red and Arthur, who died a week ago today after what is believed to be a window strike at Weill Hall. J1 was a super large very maternal bird who could be hawk-fierce when required or a gentle goof pulling the tail feathers of her brothers if they sat on a bar above her. She loved playing soccer with pinecones and taking baths in the puddles after a hot day in Ithaca. Her birth brought joy to all and as she grew most recognized that she would be a gentle but firm mother like Big Red. Because of COVID-19 and the escalating deaths and subsequent civil unrest, her death sparked a deep sense of loss not only within her hawk family but also with the BOGs in Ithaca and those who love this family around the world. Big Red and Arthur led the two remaining chicks away from Tower Road and the business of the campus near Bradfield and Weill out to Holey Cow. Just looking it appears that the distance is around a mile but I could be all wrong. The area is rural farmyard territory as opposed to urban with its buildings, streets, and cars. And the parents have kept them near the barns with the cows and sheep and the fields where Big Red’s mate, Ezra, used to hunt. One evening all four took part in a team hunting event. Big Red from one side of the pine tree and Arthur on the other would fly into the tree chasing a squirrel down for the two juveniles to hunt it. The move has caused the chicks to slow way down and stop random flying stunts between buildings. You say, “Did Big Red and Arthur know that J1 had died?” My answer to you is “Of course, they knew.” Would they have wished that Cornell University would have earlier installed window reflective glass on their buildings? Absolutely. And so, that is why I am writing to you tonight. To introduce you to ways that you can help birds in your own neighborhood.
Most of you will know some of these points but you might have forgotten or maybe you didn’t know. I certainly didn’t know all of them and tonight I find that I am still learning. So here goes:
Make all of your windows bird friendly by installing strips on the outside so there is no bird strike. Check your local wildlife or nature centre. They often have this available in their shop.
Speaking of windows. Governments in Australia have announced that all buildings will now be required to use reflective glass. It is estimated that 1 million birds die from window strikes annually. Supporters of the new reflective glass windows believe that they can save 90% of the birds with this new measure. Write to anyone in your community who will listen!
Bird-friendly coffee. Almost everyone reading this blog will drink some kind of coffee a day. But, as I have learned recently, not all coffee is the same. There are now many organic beans and blends as well as fair trade coffees but if you want to be the most environmentally friendly with your cup of java, then you must find bird friendly coffee. And this is not easy! The Smithsonian must certify the coffee to be grown under shade so that the forests are not cleared to qualify beyond being organic and fair trade. So look for the labelling and ask your local roaster to get beans brought in for you or you can order on line.
Water. The summers are getting warmer. The heat impacts all of us. One simple way to help the birds is to put out bowls of water so that they have a fresh drink and a place to have a bath and cool off. You don’t need to go down and buy a fancy bird bath. Readers of my postings have suggested checking your local thrift store for bowls or even bird baths. Many use the dishes that go under pots. One even suggested the plastic liners for paint trays (new, of course). Since I work with clay, we have an array of shallow bowls outside and every day around 4pm the little song birds line up for a drink and a splash. One day the largest of our local Grackle community decided to have a bath. It was sweet.
Cats. Cats are one of the most prominent dangers to birds. Where I live it is illegal to let your cats outside. But in many parts of the world this is not the case.
Herbicides and pesticides. One major birdseed company in the US (who also supplied herbicides and pesticides for gardens and lawns) was discovered to have poison seed in their product several years ago. Make sure you know where your birdseed comes from BUT also let your garden be natural. All of the treatments for lawns are very dangerous to animals.
Mouse and rat poison. Rodenticide. Do not use poisons to trap mice and rats. They mice and rats eat the poison, get sluggish, and are easy for the raptors to catch. Then they die. It has been clearly proven that raptors are much better at keeping down the rat population than poisons. Tell anyone you know not to use these products that stop the blood from coagulating. In fact, cats can also die if they eat a poisoned mouse or rat.
Plant a tree. During this very chaotic spring, people have been seeking calm. Trees and gardens offer places for peaceful contemplation. They also help the biosphere. So instead of paving your patio, consider creating a rustic treed space that is bird friendly instead.
Slow down. When you drive slow down. It will cause less deaths from window strike.
You might want to keep gear in your vehicle to help with injured birds. This can include but is not limited to gloves, a secure cage, and soft blanket. Know the contact numbers for your local wildlife rehabilitation centre.
These are not the only ways but they are a beginning. You might want to think about ordering the bookthat was recommended to me today. It is Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard.
You have probably never thought much about feathers unless you raise chickens and wind up plucking them yourself. Or your duvet is full of down and feathers and you find them all over the place if there is a small hole. But, maybe, like many of us, you wish you had wings and could fly – like Icarus – but not with the same consequences. I wish I had feathers and wings because then I would soar into the sky as high as I could go!
Before I begin, this posting is not the definitive answer to everything about feathers or preening. But I hope to give you a glimpse into the importance of both to Red-tail hawks. Sort of a nutshell version. If you are really interested in feathers and believe me, there is a lot to learn, I have included the name of a good book later in this blog.
Red-tail hawk chicks begin to jump and flap in the nest, according to my observations, approximately 2-3 weeks after they hatch. They are building the muscles in their wings when they flap and flap. Flight feathers not only help birds fly and soar but they are contoured and offer protection from the weather. In the first photo below, there is a snow and ice storm in Ithaca on May 8. Big Red’s feathers are keeping her dry and also protecting the chicks. Look carefully at the one under her beautiful red tail feathers.
Several times this spring, the rain has just been torrential in Ithaca. Again, the feathers kept Big Red, no matter how drenched she looked, dry and in turn, she spreads her wings to keep the chicks dry and warm.
When it is really hot and humid as it is in both Ithaca and Syracuse the last few days, rain can be very welcome to hot hawks. Below is an image from the Syracuse University Hawk cam showing two of their newly fledged red-tails dancing in the rain to cool off. It reminds me of being in India in the late 1980s and 1990s. You would beg for the rains to come to cool off and would run out into the rain ever so thankful!
So remember. Flight feathers are not just for flying but they are also for protection from the weather. The water resistance from the feathers comes from hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure is the tension between the structure of the feather versus the pressure of the water. Water droplets bead on the feathers.
Wing feathers are the longest and the most useful for flying. Below is a closeup of one of the chicks with their wing feathers starting to grow. Also notice the tail feathers that are beginning on the chick and the recognizable “red tail” of the Red Tail Hawk on Big Red. The chicks will not get their beautiful red tails until they are in their second year. Tail feathers are like the rudder on a boat. They help the birds manoeuvre. About a month after they have fledged, the chicks should be able to soar into the sky.
Approximately 18% of the weight of a Red-tail Hawk comes from feathers. By the time the chicks are 29-31 days old, their dorsal wings should be 90% feathered. Their legs will begin to feather and they will get the characteristic “pantaloons”. The ear openings should be covered and the upper tail coverts should be well developed. By the time they are 35 days old (about a week from a possible fledging or first flight off the nest), the head will be at least 50% feathered, the dorsal body will be 95% feathered, and the breast should be 90% feathered. Their tail feathers should be five to six bands long, preferably. The more bands the more successful the first flight will be.
At the time these chicks fledge, their wing and tail feathers will be longer than their parents. With their first molt, they will return to normal. Molting is the falling out and gradual replacement of the feathers.
There is a really good book on feathers. It is Feathers: the evolution of a modern miracle by Thor Hansen. There is so much to learn including every part and its function! Apparently humans have the DNA to grow feathers but we don’t have the “switch” to turn it on and off. Feathers are much more efficient than their hair. Hawks also use their feathers like a sharpening tool to keep their beaks in perfect condition.
The simple definition of preening is that it is cleaning and maintaining the feathers. Preening reinforces and conditions the surface of the feathers with gland oils. These gland oils contain vitamin D. When the feathers are exposed to sunlight after preening, the oil works as a protective conditioner. The oil in the glands change composition during the year just like you will, if you live in a cold climate in the winter, change the weight of your oil in your car. Red-tail hawks spend approximately 77% of their time preening.
One of the things that I found most interesting about the feathers is that because they are hollow, some researchers understand that birds can feel the changes in barometric pressure and will know what weather conditions are approaching. They are more likely to know the precise weather approaching than the local weather station. They have to. They live outside in the trees, roost on the ledges of buildings, and depend on millions of years of evolution to give them clues to nature’s mysteries so they can survive.
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.
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.
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 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.
They might all be on one of the towers including the nest tower. Still, on occasion, they go their separate ways.
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.
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.
Little J3 spent the night of June 14 on Rice, apparently alone. He flew back to the nest hoping to have breakfast at 7:46 am on June 15. Arthur quickly awarded him with a squirrel which he mantled with both feet. The little guy was really hungry and no one was there to steal his food! Great hawk reflexes though. A couple of hours later Arthur returned with a chippie. Full to the brim J3 spent the day lounging on the grating or the natal nest, sometimes sleeping on his favourite leaves. At sunset, he flew back to the Rice building where he spent the night. He was just waking up this morning, stretching, and sleepy.
J1 also spent a bit of time on the nest rearranging the oak leaves that Big Red had brought in but most of her day was spent on top of Rice where her and J2 received prey drops from Big Red.
Around 5pm she made her way to the trees in front of the Fernow Building. At one point it looked like she wanted to get to the nest and she began breaking branches to aid her flight. Very intelligent. She then changed her mind. When I left her last night at 7pm she was in the Oak tree preening and this morning she was with a squirrel in one of the Oak trees in front of Fernow.
J2 is harder to keep up with as he is our “stealth bullet baby”. J2 has amazing flying abilities. It is like he skipped the learning stage and went to advanced intermediate. Yesterday he was aggravating a bunch of robins near the old coop buildings on the Cornell campus.
It is now the morning of June 16 and all is well with the J family. They are fed by the extraordinary hunting skills of their father, Arthur, aged 4. Their mother, Big Red, aged 17, keeps a close eye on the chicks. I wish I was on the ground chasing them about in Ithaca but, sadly, not. Postings about their development and happenings will appear daily albeit they could be short.
In the meantime preparations are ongoing, around the world, for the very first World Albatross Day on June 19. Stay tuned for information on that event as well as the challenges that both the Red Tail Hawks and Albatross face living with humans and machines.
Wow. What a busy morning. The oak leaf and thorn plus withholding food certainly motivated the last two chicks out of the nest. J2 came over for a visit expecting to get some food but Big Red and Arthur must have had a confab last evening and decided it was thorns and oak leaves, no food. It is incredible how food can be used to motivate behaviour.
At 8:46 nest time, the hungry and light Little J3 decided it was time to go. After bouncing around on the nest, he slipped over to the front railing where everyone has expected him to fledge. In fact, Little J3 has spent most of the past several weeks looking out to the world from that very spot. He could often be seeing jumping around on the nest cup like it was his own personal trampoline but always stopping to look out to the world through the railing.
Over the course of the last few months, from the time of incubation, hatching, and changing, preparing to fledge, J3 won the hearts of many. For one thing, he is so tiny compared to J1 and J2. Speculation has always been that “he” is a “he” because of his size. Only a couple of us think that “he” is actually a very small female hawk. That is because “it” has very large feet in proportion to its size. Additionally, J2 always picked on J3 including sleeping on prey to keep it from him. As the chicks matured, Little J3 or Little Bit as he was often called was protected and cared for by his/her big sister, J1. Even this morning before J1 fledged, she was taking care of the nest bowl completely oblivious to the rest of the world. But because of her attachment to J3, it is believed she finally took the step and just joined her sibs (see later in post).
J2 was sitting on the railing and J1 was pleasantly resting in the nest cup as J3 made his way over to his favourite spot.
The BOGs (Birders on the Ground) thought that J3 had landed a great distance from the nest because he was so light and going at such a clip. There was even speculation that he had flown all the way to a nearby lake. Even Big Red was circling around to find her chick.
In the end, J3 landed in one of the trees in front of the Fernow Building close to where J1 had fledged yesterday. After looking for some time, the BOGs found him. His descent was not as smooth as his take off. What a little guy! His great long life journey, we hope, begins.
While J3 was settling in the tree away from the eyes of the BOGs hunting him, J2 is on top of the Brueckner Building. J1 is on the nest cup rearranging the oak leaves that Big Red brought in the night before. At 10:36, after much back and forth, J3 gives up and reluctantly fledges between the rails at the front of the nest facing her siblings (J2 is on Bruckner and J3 is in the tree in front of her across the street).
J1 had a slow flight across the street but remembering those oak leaves, she landed beautifully in the oak trees just as Big Red suggested! Isn’t she gorgeous? Like J2, she has beautiful blue eyes which will get darker in time. Ironically, her little brother (sister?), J3, already has dark eyes. It was a good way to tell them apart even if he was smaller because sometimes it got confusing.
Big Red tries to lure the trio with food at noon. She stands on top of a wooden pole with a chipmunk and is tempting them but no takers so far.
When none of the chicks came to the post to retrieve their lunch, Big Red eats some of the chipmunk taking the rest to J2 on top of the Bruckner Building. It was the first prey drop of the season to the chicks. J2 was delighted. He even carried the chippie around for awhile and mantled it when Big Red arrived with an oak branch. Some think that is a clue for him to spend the night on top of the Bruckner Building where it is safe.
As J2 suns himself after his lunch, J1 flies to the top of the Rice Building, a site that would have been very familiar from the nest. Meanwhile, J3 has decided to come down from the tree and get itself in some mischief around the road. Thanks to the BOGs on the groud and especially Karel and BOGette, he did not get run over by a truck and eventually made his way to the roof of one of the buildings. From here he can work his way to a point where he should be able to see and fly to his sister, J1. He first has to manage his way up onto a slate roof and then over to the metal corners before flying over to the Rice Building. It is definitely not easy walking on slate with talons!
Wow. What a day. And it easily came with tears at the end of it. We leave J3 on top of the air conditioning unit waiting for food from mom or dad. It is the first day for all three of the chicks to be out of the nest.
But for Big Red and Arthur it is a day to be proud. Big Red has successfully fledged all of her babies since the time the cameras were installed in 2012. They know that she also had at least two broods pre-camera and probably more before. In all she has fledged 24 chicks on camera and at least another six off camera, 30 in all.
In the coming weeks Big Red and Arthur will help the chicks to hone their flying skills and will teach them how to hunt for their future survival. I will bring all of you updates as they become available.