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Information about Fledging--May 27th

by Bob Sallinger


Posted on May 27, 2009 at 7:26 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:39 PM

The hawks are now 41 and 42 days old. Hawks, Eagles and Falcons of North America by Paul A. Johnsguard (Smithsonian) (an excellent reference book) lists red-tails as fledging (leaving the nest) at 42-45 days. The book estimates the post fledging period (the period where the hawks remain dependent on their parents at 5-10 weeks. So watch for the hawks to take their first flights anytime now!

The hawks will instinctively know how to hunt and fly. When we raise orphaned hawks at the Audubon Care Center, they will instinctively take to the air on the same timeline as their wild counterparts. They often are chasing anything that moves even before they are airborne. many viewers of Raptor Cam have undoubtedly observed the young hawks snapping at flies. I have watched young falcons chase everything from grasshoppers on the ground to great blue herons in the air (unsuccessfully!) within 24 hours of flying.

However the it takes some time for the young hawks to become proficient at both hunting and flying. During the next 5-10 weeks, the parents remain in the picture to provide them with food, protection and guidance as they venture out into the world. Over the course of several weeks the parents interactions with their young will slowly taper off and the young are better and better able to provide for themselves.

During the first couple of days after they take their first flights, they may well spend time on or close to the ground.This is hazardous for a young bird under any circumstances. In more rural areas, there are lots of predators. In the city there are cars, windows, power lines, people, etc. Last year one fledgling spent part of a day practicing flying by repeatedly hopping from the ground to the top of a bike rack for several hours. His sibling spent most of the day in a small tree less than 6 feet above unaware pedestrians passing by below. One of the fledglings crashed into a window and spent a couple of days recovering at Audubon before being released back to his family.

Typically the hawks will fly better than they land at first. Once they get airborne, they can tend to stay aloft for awhile. However their ability to navigate is not well developed and they often miss their targets when they try to land. During the first couple of days you will often see them bouncing and scrambling from perch to perch as they try to get a foothold.

As with the nestling development process, the post fledging process also goes rather quickly. Within days you will be amazed by how well they are flying and they will make their first kills within a week or two. They will practice aerial dog fighting with each other . They will chase all kinds of prey including things that they will eventually come to recognize as outside their capabilities.

Early on they will stay close to the nest. They may return to the nest periodically or they may simply use other nearby perching and roosting locations. Last year the red-tails did return regularly to their nest in the first weeks following fledging. The peregrines I work with almost never return to their nests after they take their first flights. As time goes on, they will venture further and further from the nest. Even after they are proficient at hunting, they will continue to chase mom and dad and beg for food. The parents may eventually go into a "hiding mode" to reduce the youngsters dependence.

By late summer, the young red-tails will be fully independent and will move out into the world on their own independent of their parents and each other. Once this happens, their relationship with their current family is basically over. They will spend the next year or two wandering on their own. They may migrate southward this winter, but many red-tails in our fairly temperate climate do not migrate. In a couple of years, they may find mates and establish their own nesting territories. This could be somewhat close to where they were born or hundreds of miles away.

The ability to watch the hawks on Raptor Cam once they fledge will be very limited. I am sure Frank who has done a stellar job tracking the birds to date will continue to try to zoom in on them when they are in the vicinity of the nest. I will to keep folks updated via the blog to the degree that we are able to track them ourselves of get reports from people working in the vicinity.