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June 8, 2011: Some Thoughts on Fledging

June 8, 2011:  Some Thoughts on Fledging

by Bob Sallinger


Posted on June 8, 2011 at 9:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 5:56 AM


The nestlings are now 48, 48 and 44 days old. Each of them is now capable of flight. A lot of folks are expressing some anxiety about the fledging process. It is indeed one of the most hazardous parts of the life cycle for any bird---every bit as much so for the robins in your backyard as for the red-tails on the fire escape. For those that have been watching for months it will probably be a bit frustrating because much of it will take place out of view of the camera.

The hawks are behaving absolutely normally. They are exploring more and more of their surrounding area. One youngster has spent a couple of days exploring lower levels of the fire escape. Within a couple of days they will take their first flights---it may be to nearby buildings, to the ground below, or to light posts and trees that dot the landscape. They could go a very short distance or they could go many blocks.

Watch Raptor Cam Live: KGW Audubon Raptor Cam

Injured Nestling

I did go up and watch the injured nestling through the blinds on Friday. One parent was there the entire time. Even the slightest movement behind their blinds drew their attention and I often found myself eyeball to eyeball with dad. the injured youngster is able to stand and use the leg. i did not see any swelling or injury. Based on what I could observe up close, we decided to leave her in the nest. We will monitor the fledging process and and see how things progress over the next week or so. See below for some photos from the time I spent observing.

The following are some answers to some of the questions that are being posted:

How will they find their way back to the nest: Once they fledge they may never return to the nest. They don't need it anymore. After several weeks in the nest however, they are very familiar with the local landscape. There are many prominent landmarks that they will be able to use to orient themselves once they take to the air.

How will they get fed: The parents will continue to provide them with food for several weeks. They will periodically locate them and bring them food. Usually it is the fledglings that reveal themselves to the parents---they can see the parents flying overhead and call to them or even give chase.

Will the young stay together: they will spend time together and alone. As they learn to really fly, they will spend time dogfighting with one another to practice their hunting skills.

Will the parents stay with the young as they learn to fly: The parents are often near the young bit they can also spend extended time alone. I have noticed that when the young are fledging the parents often perch high above on the corners of tone of the nearby skyscrapers 42 floors above the streetscape. They were there this afternoon.

How do they learn to hunt: Red-tails will begin to hunt instinctively but they also learn by watching their parents and dogfighting with their siblings. They will probably start chasing prey within days of taking to the air but it will take many weeks for them to become proficient.

How long can they go without food:  They have been well fed. They can go several days without getting fed. Sometimes they will be a little freaked out after their first flights and they may sit quietly for several hours or even days---eventually hunger will overcome fear and they will search out the parents and let them know where they are.

What about all the hazards on the urban landscape: Fledging is a hazardous time for youngsters whether they are on urban or wild landscapes. In the wild they face risks from all sorts of predators. In the city they face risks from collisions with cars, windows and power lines. There is not a whole lot you can do for the red-tails but remember the birds in your backyards and neighborhoods are going through the same process---you can help them by naturscaping your yard, reducing use of pesticides and herbicides and housing cats indoors

Is somebody going to stay near the nest to monitor them in case they run into trouble: We check on them periodically to keep raptor cam viewers updated and we respond to any reports of the birds getting into trouble, but we do not monitor them continuously. Birds are going through this exact same process all over the city right now---it is just part of life in the city. Also remember that once these birds are flying they can go very long distances very quickly. The odds of being in the right place at the right time are very minimal.

What should you do if you see an injured hawk: Our Wildlife Care Center is open 365 days year from 9-5. If folks downtown need to report something they can call the care center at 505 292-0304. Hopefully they will make it through unscathed this year!

Postscript: This year fledging reports may be a little more sporadic than prior years--I am leaving for Alaska for two weeks beginning this Friday. I will file some reports from the road and Mary Coolidge at Audubon will also be submitting reports to Frank to post if we learn of any misadventures. We will do our best to keep folks updated.