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May 26, 2010--Some notes on fledging

by Bob Sallinger


Posted on May 26, 2010 at 7:19 AM

The hawks are now 43 days old and capable of taking their first flights. They have passed the stage where if they left the nest it would be considered premature. That being said, the longer they wait, the stronger and more developed they will be when they do take to the air. Smaller males tend to fly sooner than larger females. The amount of flapping and jumping about the nest has increased tremendously in the last couple of days. Oftentimes the first flight is not a deliberate event---the hawks is flapping or jumping and catches a gust of wind and finds itself airborne!

People are often surprised by how strongly birds fly when they first take to the air. They often can go very long distances and stay aloft for quite some time. The real challenge comes in landing. It will take some time for them to build-up their skills and precision and they will often miss their targets. Watching young hawks learn to fly can be a somewhat harrowing experience during the first couple of days as they overshoot and undershoot their targets and find themselves crashing into things and scrambling down the sides of buildings. Still, it is pretty amazing how fast they build their flying skills over the first couple of days

It is also not uncommon for them to come to the ground during this period. A couple of years ago, one raptor cam fledgling spent his first day away from the nest practicing his flying skills by jumping back and forth from the ground to a bike rack in the middle of a busy plaza. His sister watched him from a small ornamental tree and his parents watched him from a nearby building rooftop. The best thing to do in these types of situations is give them space and let them go about their business of exploring their suddenly much larger world.

The parent will continue to provide food and guidance for their young for several weeks to come. You may not see the adults but they are usually perched or flying somewhere close by especially during the first couple of weeks after fledging. Fledglings ((however may go several hours (or even in some cases even a day or two if they wander too far and wide) without direct interaction with their parents. The parents are not able to lift or carry the young, so once they leave the nest it will be up to the fleglings to transport themselves. When they are hungry they will start calling to the parents and that is often how the parents find them as they wander about.

The fledglings may or may not use the nest throughout this process. In past years they have returned intermittently. However the nest really does not have much utility to them anymore---they parents will deliver food to them where ever they are and they can perch  and roost in trees and on buildings just as well as one the fire escape.

If folks see the birds and believe that there is a problem they can call Audubon's Wildlife Care Center between the hours of 9-5 every day of the week at (503) 292-0304. Hopefully this fledgling season will go off without incident.

One final note on spring birds: Our yards and neighborhoods are full of young birds going through the same process as the red-tails. I live in inner Northeast in a neighborhood with very little green and yet my block is full of fledglings. If you see a young bird on the ground---don't assume that it is injured or needs rescuing. It is probably just a fledgling learning how to fly. If that is the case best thing you can do is to give it some space and keep cats indoors and dogs under control. Remember that as with the red-tails, fledglings will at this point be full feathered and just as large as their parents. The parent may or may not be immediately visible in the vicinity--they are often nearby but hidden. They may also be off taking care of their other fledglings (for example a robin may have four or five fledglings all going different directions at the same time! A bushtit may have seven or eight young fluttering and hopping about! Unless a youngster is injured, it is critical to leave them alone--this is the time when they are learning most of their skills for survival! For more information on spring birds check out the Audubon Living with Wildlife Baby Birds and Baby Mammals Brochures.