Fledgling Hawks

08 August 2014

Someone (c. Sellers) just sent me a photo of a Mississippi Kite fledgling in their yard (image #1). It made me think how neat it would be to have a Mississippi Kite nest to watch for an entire nesting season. First, they arrive from South America, a feat within itself! Then they begin to build the nest, or add to the previous year's nest, bringing sticks and nest lining greenery in. During this time, the adults mate daily and the male brings food to the female. Once the female lays eggs, she sits tight incubating them for at least a month enduring the rain, wind, cold, and sun. Once the chicks hatch, small white fuzz-balls are barely visible the first week unless there is an eye-level vantage point. As the young grow, develop feathers, and become adult-size, they beg and whine for food on and off every day. When they are about to fledge (fly for the first time), they flap in the nest to help develop their flying muscles. Seeing a young bird leave the nest for the first time is probably the highlight of the season for a home owner with a hawk nest in their yard, it takes being in the right place at the right time, and it is a tense situation as well. The first flight is usually the sloppiest and most awkward time for a bird, and the landing is often not a "soft" one.

After the young fledge, it takes them a few weeks to start catching food by themselves. The adults start to feed them less in order to coax the young to attempt hunting. The first few attempts are almost always a failure, but once the young birds catch that first meal, they seem to learn much more quickly how to be consistently successful in the future (see a Kestrel with its first catch on the HWI facebook page for July 31st). For Kites, they need to learn quickly how to catch insects on the wing because they will be headed south to a far away place only a brief time after learning to hunt. They are equipped for the journey though, being extremely lightweight and buoyant for their size, and built with pointed narrow wings for efficient flight.

Here is a photo taken two days ago of young Swainson's Hawk recently out of the nest in a neighborhood near me (image #2). The home owners weren't too thrilled to duck and cover every time they walked out of the  house to avoid being "whacked" by one of the territorial adults. And here is a young Cooper's Hawk sitting on a wire in my yard (image #3) from a few days ago that just missed catching a Collared Dove. No need to worry about the hawk though, since one of its parents was successful minutes later. Here the male of the nesting pair (image #4) is trying to hide from me unsuccessfully as it watches over its young on the wire.

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