Just Fledged Red-Tailed Hawk

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My posts will be intermittent for a couple of weeks, I think.  Louisa and I are going to be visiting family next week. I should post again towards the latter part of next week and next weekend.  However, the following week I have a medical issue that needs to be addressed that should keep me out of action for a few days.  I should be as active as ever by around the 20th of the month.

My drive through agricultural country last weekend led me onto a farm road that extended for miles through immense fields.  At one point both sides of the road were lined with trees.  Some of these trees had long since died and had toppled over.  Other dead trees had lost their crowns but their trunks still stood erect.  I was passing these dead trees when something caught my eye.  Perched on one of the fallen trees, only a few feet off the road, was a large raptor.

I came to a stop, never expecting the bird to stay put.  I occasionally come across raptors perched on low vegetation or even on the ground during my rural photography trips but these birds invariably fly the instant that I slow down to photograph them.  I was surprised when this bird stayed glued to its perch.  I rolled down my passenger window, trained my lens on the bird, and began to photograph it.

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For a few seconds I had no idea what I was photographing.  It plainly was a large hawk but the plumage didn’t resemble any of the hawk species that typically visit or reside in our area.  It took me about five seconds to realize that this was not an adult, not even a juvenile bird, but a fledgling, a youngster that had no doubt just left the nest.  It was, in fact, a fledgling Red-tailed Hawk.

After a few seconds the bird hopped to the ground behind the fallen tree and disappeared from view.  I drove on, pleased with the images that I’d made.  About two hours later I was headed home and, on a hunch, drove past the same location.  To my delight, the bird was back, perched on the same trunk as previously.

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I stopped to watch it, and this time, the youngster stayed put.  I also noticed a second fledgling on the ground, just behind the log.  Only the top of its head was visible.  The fledgling hawk and I watched each other for a minute.  Then, I heard loud screaming above me.  I looked out of the car and could see two adult birds circling a few hundred feet overhead.  They were obviously not pleased that I had parked so close to their children.

The young hawk “roused” its feathers as if making ready to fly.

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Suddenly, it made a short, awkward flight to the top of one of the erect dead trees, where it then watched me closely.

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I continued to photograph it from my car window and then, decided that I’d put enough pressure on these birds, and left.

Young raptors do not instinctively know how to fly.  They must learn through trial and error.  Usually, for these birds the first couple of days after they leave their nest are traumatic, because their flights are clumsy, sometimes to the point of being comical.  At this stage of their lives they are extremely vulnerable to predators and their parents watch them anxiously.   The fledglings learn very quickly, however, and within a few days these youngsters will be flying with aplomb.  Their parents will, however, continue to bring food to them for several weeks after they fledge.  After that, the youngsters are on their own and must either learn how to hunt or starve.  A very high percentage of these birds do not survive their first year because they never do learn how to hunt.  Here’s hoping that this one and its sibling make it.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO+1.4X Telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 1000, f6.3, shutter speeds varied.

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