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February 14, 2012: Courting Red-tails

by Bob Sallinger


Posted on February 14, 2012 at 10:15 PM

In the spirit of Valentines Day I thought I would do a blog on red-tail courtship. Many red-tails migrate but the Raptor Cam red-tails remain on or near their territory year round. Red-tails are monogamous usually staying together until one of the pair dies. The same pair of hawks have occupied this territory since Raptor Cam began in 2007.  The pair remain near one another not just during nesting season but throughout the entire year.

Nest repair or construction typically begins in February. Viewers of Raptor Cam during February will often find the nest empty but those who watch long enough are likely to see the birds periodically flying in and weaving new sticks and branches into the existing nest.

Throughout February and early March visitors to downtown Portland should listen for the raspy, high pitched red-tail call "eeeerrrrrr" emanating from overhead. The pair is likely to be seen soaring together in wide circles, flying in tandem, tail chasing,  doing spectacular aerial displays, even locking talons and tumbling through the air.  The male may shoot steeply downward and then reverse direction and shoot steeply upward again. Courting red-tails will also dangle their legs as they fly. These displays have been described as "sky dancing."  .

The courtship displays also serve a second function as territorial displays warning other red-tails that the territory is occupied. Entry into the territory by interloping red-tails could result in aggressive attacks.

The male will deliver presents to the female---think rats and pigeons rather than flowers and chocolate. Food can be delivered to a nearby ledge, exchanged talon to talon during flight or even dropped and caught in mid air.

Copulation can occur throughout the nesting season but peaks just before eggs are laid.

Hopefully these courtship tips will be useful to you as you woo your own sweetie. Happy Valentines Day!