Nov
07

Summer of the Hawk

Hawks of Summer 2011

Birds have fascinated me and my family for many years.  We have had a Double Yellow Headed Amazon Parrot as a pet for over 20 years.  We have always named our computers after bird types.  Our consulting company’s website (http://www.odycc.com/) uses various types of birds as a metaphor for traits necessary to be successful in the use of computer technology to meet your business goals.  Sandra has been inspired by the subject of birds in her artistic endeavors.  An example line drawing of a hawk drawn by Sandra is shown at the end of this post.

A mother Cooper's Hawk looking down at her newly hatched babies in the nest.

You can imagine our pleasure when this summer my family and I had the unique privilege of having a pair of Cooper’s Hawks build a nest at the top of an oak tree in our front yard. Within a few days after the nest was completed, it was apparent that the female had laid eggs in the nest and was sitting on them. After a few more weeks we began to see a behavioral change in the parents. While the female stayed on or near the nest most of the time, the male was constantly out hunting for food. After a couple of more days of observation we began to see little downy heads popping up from time to time, especially when one of the parent birds showed up with a mouse or a lizard for dinner.

It became a daily ritual in our family to check on the hawk nest. As days passed by the baby hawks were rapidly growing. We were able to see more and more of their heads and their gaping mouths as they made themselves available at feeding time. After a couple of weeks the female joined the male in the hunt for food for the demanding chicks. They were extremely dedicated parents, working from sunup to sundown to bring sustenance to the baby birds.

If you do a search on the word “hawk” or “hawk science” in Google or Bing, you will find the search results page littered with aerospace engineering companies, NASA missions, and military hardware or possibly news about a sports team. The very nature of the hawk’s natural abilities evokes a strong symbolism that is appealing to organizations like sports teams or the military. In earlier times, hawks and eagles were symbols of strength and wisdom to Native Americans. Their feathers were used as symbols of social standing and achievement in the tribe. Hawks are swift and alert. They have keen eyesight. The shrill call of a hawk sends smaller creatures scurrying for the safety of shelter. Little did we know that we would be able to observe these qualities and more in the family of hawks that lived in a tree in our front yard in the summer of 2011.

From Crisis to Opportunity

Baby Cooper's Hawk had fallen from the nest into the front lawn.

One hot morning in late June something unanticipated happened. Sandra went out into the front yard to view the nest and found that one of the baby hawks had fallen to the ground. He was lying in the shade in a patch of St. Augustine grass that covers much of our front yard. As she approached the baby bird to determine his status, she found that although he was unable to fly, he was able to walk around on the ground. He seemed to be ok despite falling at least 30 feet! She immediately came back inside the house and informed me and Aaron about the situation.

After taking a look at the small helpless hawk, many questions started racing through my mind. How is this helpless bird going to make it? Will his parents come down to the ground to feed him? How will he survive the hot Texas days on the ground. We had already had 20 days of 100+ degree rainless weather with no relief in sight. Even if he could survive in this harsh environment, how would he escape other predators now that he was in the worst place possible for a baby bird – on the ground.

Baby hawk being coaxed onto a stick so he can be placed back into a tree.

We realized that there was only so much we could do to help. We immediately decided to try to get him off of the ground. I went and got a pair of heavy duty leather gloves and approached the baby hawk. He tried to run but immediately decided he could not escape me so he hunkered down into the grass, opened his wings as wide as possible, and opened his mouth in a threatening gesture. I carefully folded his wings back down over his body and gently grabbed him. I took him over to a low lying branch of a smaller tree and placed him on the branch. Initially he was reluctant to grab onto the branch but after a couple of tries, he did grab on and maintained his balance. He stayed there for the remainder of the afternoon and into the evening. As darkness moved in, I thought to myself that it will be a miracle if he makes it through the night.

Baby hawk after being placed back on a tree branch.

We woke up early the next morning and looked out the window, wondering if he would still be alive. Sure enough, there he was, in the exact same place that we had left him the night before. At least he had sense enough to stay put. Somehow he had managed to avoid detection by predators of the Texas night like cats, raccoons, opossums, snakes, and owls. At first we were extremely happy. We had thought the bird’s chances were very slim and that it probably would not survive the first night. Now that he had survived, a new reality began to sink in. We realized that it would take days if not weeks for this bird to mature enough to fly. How was he going to survive the hot Texas days without nourishment and water? Then it happened. The baby bird began to call out a familiar sound. It was a loud shrill whistle srr-sssrrrrrr. We saw a parent bird circling the area. The baby was calling to its parents. The circles became smaller and smaller as the bird flew lower and lower. Then it landed on a tree branch just above the baby bird. Finally it flew down next to the baby bird and began to feed it what looked like a piece of a small reptile it had caught.

Over the next three weeks this process continued. Both parent birds were involved. One would stay fairly close to the area while the other would go out hunting for food. The parents worked very hard taking care of the birds in the nest as well as the one who had fallen out. It was amazing to see how dedicated these two parent birds were in taking care of their young. They very quickly adapted to the situation. We had a heart felt sense of amazement to be able to witness this.

Ground School and Flight Training

During the course of the next three weeks, the baby bird bailed out of the tree onto the ground several times. We tried to not interfere except when it looked like the baby was wandering into harms way. For instance the tiny hawk tried to cross the hot asphalt street during the busy part of the day. We grabbed it and put it back into the tree before it was inadvertently run over by a neighbor as they were headed home from work. By this time, Aaron had refined the process by getting the baby bird to step onto a parrot cage perch. This was less trauma to the baby bird with less risk to the person (the baby bird was growing rapidly and the beak and claws looked very sharp and menacing).

We did observe that after a three week period, the baby bird finally started making short flights, although we did not see if fly. We speculated that he was able to fly because we would leave him sitting on the low lying branch that had been his home for over two weeks. When we went back out later in the day to see how he was doing, he was gone. Looking around revealed that he was on a branch of the same tree which was five or six feet higher. We would also find him on low lying branches of other trees in the front yard. All throughout this time his parents continued locate him and feed him.

Also after about three weeks after the baby initially fell from the nest, the baby bird’s siblings began to leave the nest. One in particular made a habit of flying down and sitting next to its smaller sibling. At first we thought that the larger bird came down to keep his smaller sibling company, but it also made it more likely he would be fed more often because it was easier for the parents to feed the two birds when they were sitting so close to one another.

The larger chick came down to join its smaller sibling on a lower tree branch.

After another week or two the baby bird increased its mobility until it eventually worked its way back up to the nest and beyond. The hawks stayed in the area for another month or so as the babies learned to fly. In mid August we were blessed with a nice rain storm after months of heat and drought. The resulting gusts of wind were a perfect training exercise for the baby hawks. We spent at least an hour watching the babies following the parent birds as they rode the air currents several hundred feet in the air and then did practice dives toward the tree tops. It reminded me of my childhood dream of wanting desperately to learn to fly like a bird.

As time progressed, the baby hawk moved higher up into the tree top canopy.

After another week we noticed the hawks were gone. Sometimes we could hear their calls in the trees down the street but even this ceased after a couple of days. The only evidence that remains is the large nest that still sits at the top of our oak tree in the front yard. I don’t know if they will be back next spring or not. I hope so. Nevertheless, in the future, when I think of the year 2011 I will always remember the Cooper’s hawks that chose to raise their family in a way that allowed us the amazing experience of being able to observe their way of life so closely.  I have a new found respect for the intelligence and instincts that nature has given these beautiful creatures to successfully raise their young.

One of our last photos of the young Cooper's Hawk calling to its parents for food.

 

"Hawk Landing" by Sandra Ringo

Other Great Resources

Birds in General

http://www.birding.com/ – Lots of information about birds and bird watching around the world.  Contains lots of information about birds in general with many excellent links for further study.

http://www.birding.com/wheretobird/texas.asp – A great resource for bird watchers in Texas.

http://texasbirds.org/ – Website of the Texas Ornithological Society.

http://texasbirds.org/tbrc/statelst.htm#hawks – A list of all the types of hawks found in Texas. 

Hawks

http://www.jaybat.com/birdsahoy/hawks/ – A website that has many excellent links to sites about hawks and other raptors.

http://birdsbybent.com/ch1-10/coopers.html – Everything you want to know about Cooper’s Hawks and more!

Birds and Art

http://www.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/Bird_Art.html – A short essay on art inspired by birds.

http://www.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/SUFRAME.html – An interesting website done by that is dedicated to the birds of Stanford.  It emphasizes both the science and art associated with birds.

http://www.hawksaloft.com/ – A website dedicated to the art and science of hawks.  Excellent resource!

http://ottgallerymv.com/lannymcdowellavianart/index.php/2009/07/raptor-photos-young-coopers-hawks-on-marthas-vineyard/ – Some great photography of some Cooper’s Hawks and their babies on Martha’s Vinyard.

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