Another baby

When the Cooper’s hawk triplets made their first appearance, I didn’t realize how much fun it would be getting to know them during their childhood.  I also didn’t realize how much I would be affected when they started moving away to find their own territories.  White Rock Lake, as far as accipiters go, belongs to their parents, so I knew all along the triplets would eventually leave, yet spending most of the year together let me know them as more than just predators, more than just raptors.  They became individuals, unique personalities who were as recognizable as my own face, each a distinct being with habits and ways shared by no other.

Because the threesome lived a few steps from my door, they filled my observational time and caused me to miss some of the other children born and raised at the lake.  For you see, at least five breeding pairs of hawks nest within the 2,100 acres/850 hectares of this park: the Cooper’s hawks nesting near my home, a pair of red-shouldered hawks nesting in the woods of the old fish hatchery, a pair of red-tailed hawks nesting in the woods at Boyscout Hill, a pair of red-tailed hawks nesting on the arboretum grounds, and a pair of red-shouldered hawks nesting in the woods around Dixon Branch.[1]

You might remember that last pair, the red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) nesting around Dixon Branch.  They offered a spectacular public display of affection in February.  I might add they repeated that display several times.  And afterward I expected to see the usual brooding and rearing activities followed by the eventual appearance of one or more juveniles.  I unfortunately spent all my raptor babysitting time with the Cooper’s kids, hence I failed to track down and monitor the red-shouldered nest built not too far from my home.  I saw the parents regularly, of course, but never the offspring.  At least not until now.[2]

A juvenile red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) perched in a treetop (2009_11_26_040845)

Perhaps a week ago when I stepped outside early in the morning, a great avian raucous filled the air.  Crows, titmice, towhees, mockingbirds and a few wrens made such a fuss that I ran inside, grabbed the camera and dashed to the woodland edge to see what was happening.[3]  I could only view the target of their ire through a tiny opening in the trees.  Still, I had no problem identifying what had the birds so upset: a juvenile red-shouldered hawk.  I snapped a photo before making the five-minute run around the trees to a spot on the floodplain where I hoped to have a better view.  The entire scene disbanded while I traveled, and only the sound of mobbing crows moving in the opposite direction told me what I feared: the hawk and its pursuers had gone the other way.  As my luck would have it, I would have been better served had I remained in my original spot since that’s where the birds went.  Oh well…

Then just two days later on a very gloomy, very cloudy morning, I meandered along the treeline around Dixon Branch and stopped cold when I noticed something perched in a low branch of a massive cottonwood tree.  I at first thought it an owl since I could only see it from behind and its colors played in the browns of the woods that surrounded it.  One shadow against another from my position, so I circled at distance until I could see a profile view.  Suddenly I felt tremendous joy thinking somehow I was making up for lost time.

A juvenile red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) perched on a tree branch (2009_11_28_042486)

I moved as a snail might move, slowly and cautiously, and I never stared directly at the young hawk.  I used sideways glances and peripheral vision, and I let the camera shield my face as much as possible so the hawk could not see my eyes.  Mostly it looked elsewhere with a few occasional glances in my direction.  Yet it didn’t leave even as I drew myself beneath the same tree.

A juvenile red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) perched on a tree branch (2009_11_28_042491)

Then in came the crows, five of them, and though they had no interest in the hawk (I don’t think they knew it was there), the juvenile still took flight and vanished into the woods.  I followed it with my eyes and saw it land on another low branch not too far inside the forest.  So off I went again.

A juvenile red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) hidden in the woods (2009_11_28_042512)

I found the one nearby opening that gave me some kind of view of the bird, albeit not a clear one.  After capturing a few more images, I left the raptor in peace.  Just seeing it, especially seeing it close by, left me feeling great joy at the continued success of our local hawks.  And it left me feeling that perhaps I hadn’t failed to enjoy more than the Cooper’s triplets, that perhaps in being surrogate parent to them I had simply waited later in the year to find more of the local children.

Now I’m just hoping for an opportunity to photograph this youngster when there’s better light and fewer obstacles…

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Additional raptor breeding pairs might reside at the lake.  Those I mentioned represent the five distinct pairs I have thus far identified, though a single person covering such a large area hardly can be certain of exact numbers.  Other accipiters or even falcons might nest here, and owls might nest here (owls definitely roost here); however, I doubt other buteos nest here given four resident pairs who occupy strategic territories around the park’s perimeter.

[2] Given the time of year, I at first suspected this to be a winter migrant.  Since our first encounter, though, I have seen it repeatedly—and I have seen the adult red-shouldered hawks tolerating it within their territory, even within the very woods where they nest.  The two pairs of red-shoulders leave each other alone only so long as each pair remains on its respective side of the lake.  The same is true with the red-tailed hawks.  In light of this usual détente by distance, the adults tolerating this juvenile within their territory of many years leads me to believe it must be their offspring.

[3] The location of the bird mob and the number of species involved made me think that perhaps the bobcat was around.  As it was just after dawn and sufficient light existed to get at least one or two photos, I hoped that was the case as the feline has so far expertly outwitted my attempts to get a few pictures.

6 thoughts on “Another baby”

  1. Great photography and narrative! I look forward to following your blog.

    In my neck of the woods I’ve had nesting GH Owls, RT Hawks, and Swainson’s Hawks. The Swainson nest failed this year and I was really disappointed. We had 5 GH Owl’s fledge and at least 7 Red-tailed Hawks. It was very enjoyable to watch them grow up.

    1. Thank you so much, Robert! I’m glad you liked it.

      I’m sorry to hear the Swainson’s nest failed. Like you, I take a personal interest in the local wildlife and how they do each year when it comes to raising families (and how they do in general the rest of the year). I know sometimes breeding doesn’t work out, but it still always bothers me when that happens.

  2. Ahhh. Just what I needed tonight. You have a relationship with the family. I’m honored to know a fellow hawk stalker. You know how to get close. You know how to allow them to trust you. Wonderful….

    1. I’m thrilled to hear this hit a good spot for you, Mary. Even when I’m overwhelmed with trials and tribulations, nature always gives me something to smile about.

  3. Found this entry while looking for info on interactions between crows and hawks.

    Was walking to bus stop this am, when I heard a crow squawk. “Sounded” surprised or indignant. Turned around and there was a crow on the ground under a really large tree behind my building (live in DC) and another rather large bird flying up into the branches. I walked closer and sure enough was a hawk. May have been a red-shouldered hawk. Not sure, but size fits (looked smaller than crow). Also behavior matched. There was another crow and they chased the hawk when it changed branches and it also chased them.

    Eventually one crow flew away and then the second one. It had something large in its mouth. Almost looked as if it could have been a bird. The hawk watched them both fly away and then flew off in the same direction.

    Wonder what was going on? This hawk “drops on prey from perch in canopy.” Maybe it had caught a bird and then the crows stole it? Or had the crows found whatever it was and the hawk was trying to steal it? Maybe that explains the crow’s squawk. Too bad I could not see what happened before the squawk. Oh well……..

    I have seen a few hawks in DC over the years but not many and not this close.

    I have always liked crows and watch them all the time. About eight years ago I was fortunate enough to have some build a nest outside my window (in another building) about 30 feet away. What a great experience. From watching them build the nest to seeing fledglings learning to fly.

    Meddled and started putting out ground meat and other food on my AC for them. Of course it got out of hand. Some mornings would be 5 or 6 crows perched outside yelling for food (I’m sure neighbors were thrilled). Was fun “talking” to them from my kitchen while they were perched on nearby branches. Was able to get about 10 feet away from them (any closer and they got nervous.

    Unfortunately they did not return the following year. Some squirrels took over and “improved” the nest with a roof. Bad choice of nest for the squirrels; came home one day and a group of crows were gleefully trashing the nest. I say “gleefully” because it “sounded” as if they were having great fun. Was not pretty for the squirrels. Really nothing they could do to protect their babies.

    Sorry for the long comment……

    Anyway, you have some pretty amazing photos here and I really enjoyed the section on the “Kids.” Have bookmarked your site and will revisit it. Best regards.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Cigfran7! From the size of the hawk you mention, it probably was a kite or accipiter of some kind. Red-shouldered hawks are larger than crows.

      I love the whole experience you describe! It’s easiest to bet the crows took food from the hawk. That’s common, though as you point out, it’s also possible the hawk was trying to steal food from the crows (which is also normal).

      Sometimes it’s something else entirely: some of the larger hawks like red-shouldered and red-tailed will attack a crow and eat it if they can. I saw that once and the sound the crow made when it was hit was otherworldly. Very strange to see and hear…

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