Happy Summer Solstice and greetings from the Arctic Circle! I am in Barrow, Alaska co-leading an Audubon trip so the blog entrees have been a little erratic over the past ten days or so. The sun never sets during the summer here--we just went birding at 1:00 AM.
As folks have pieced together, a lot has happened since the Raptor Cam birds began fledging. Two of the three fledglings did suffer mishaps and were brought into Audubon's Wildlife Care Center. One fledgling was picked-up by Portland Police after being found dodging traffic on Broadway. The hawk was examined by our Wildlife Care Center veterinarians and held for a couple of days for observation. Once she was determined to be healthy, she was banded and returned to the fire escape. She has a silver band on her right leg and an orange band on her left leg. The orange band has the letters "RH" on it which can be read at some distance
A second fledgling unfortunately did not fair so well. He was found on Burnside with a serious head injury--his jaw was fractured and an eye socket was crushed. Most likely he collided with a car. Sadly he was determined to be beyond repair and had to be euthanized. We cannot be entirely sure that he was actually from the raptor cam nest as there is another red tail nests in close proximity to the location he was found on Burnside.
As far as we know the third fledgling is still out there and doing fine.
I have read a number of blog entries where people question whether the city is just too dangerous for these birds or whether the mortalities are abnormal compared with raptors on less urban situations. In fact the truth is that fledging is just a very hazardous part of bird development...period. It doesn't matter whether they are on remote landscapes or in the middle of the city. The hazards are different---on wild landscapes the primary hazards may come from other predators while on urban landscapes they tend to be things like colliding with cars, windows and power lines. However, the bottom line is that any young raptor has a perilous gauntlet to travel.
I was reminded of that fact today as we roamed about Barrow looking for snowy owls. Barrow is the furthest point north in the United States. It is bordered to the north by the ice covered Chukchi Sea and to the south by an endless expanse of tundra. The only way to reach Barrow is by plane or boat. We ventured out onto the tundra today looking for snowy owls which nest on the ground. We had the good fortune to run into Biologist Denver Holt who has been studying snowy owls for two decades. He told us about how they can lay as many as eleven eggs. The parents take care of the young in the nest until they are three weeks old. However once they reach three weeks of age the young typically leave the nest and begin roaming about the tundra on foot even though it will be another three weeks before they are able to fly. The parents continue to bring them food and protect them as they roam about. This reduces the overall risk of predation by Arctic foxes and other predators that could destroy the entire clutch if all the young remained in one place. StiIl think about the hazards a three week owl would face roaming the tundra on foot and often alone...I asked Denver how many were likely to survive this process and he said probably no more than four or five. Of course every nest is different, but it drives home the point that even here in one the remotest places on the planet, far from the hazards of our city, death is very much a part of life for these birds. They have a lot of young to compensate for the high mortality rate. it doesn't make it any easier to take when one doesn't make it...but hopefully this helps place the mortalities in a different context.
Since 2007 our Raptor Cam red-tails have hatched 13 young of which we believe eight survived the fledging process.
Snowy 0wl Biologist Denver Holt discussing snowy owls
Midnight on the tundra--Snowy owl habitat