Fledgling Red-tailed Hawk — The Rookie

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I was out for a drive the other day when I saw four large raptors sitting side by side on the cross beam of a utility pole.  My first thought was that they were Harris’ Hawks.  Harris’ Hawks live in family groups and often perch together.  I quickly realized that I was wrong.  These were Red-tailed Hawks.  Adult Red Tails perch with their mates from time to time but they never perch in larger groups so I was perplexed for a moment.  Then, it hit me: these were fledglings.  Very young Red Tail siblings just out of their nests sometimes perch together for a short period of time before going their separate ways.  Partly that’s out of insecurity but partly also it’s because their parents continue to feed them for a while after they’ve fledged.  The kids tend to hang out with each other if there’s food in the offing.

Three of the birds flew off before I could grab my camera from the seat next to me and take their picture.  They headed for another utility pole a couple hundred yards away.  The fourth, apparently confused, flew a few yards and attempted to land on a utility wire.

That was a rookie error for the youngster.  The fledgling hadn’t perfected its skills well enough to balance on the wire.  For a second it attempted to use its wings to stabilize itself.  Then, it fell off, quickly regained control, and flew on to join its siblings.

It’s a lot of fun to observe fledgling raptors as they acquire the skills that they’ll need for the remainder of their lives.  They acquire flight skills very quickly.  In a day or two this young hawk and its siblings will be adept fliers.  They will still have a lot to learn, however.  Hawks are not born with instinctive hunting skills.  They have to learn how to hunt through trial and error.  Only about one-third of fledgling hawks do.  The rest will not survive their first year.  Being a raptor is not easy.

Image made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f6.3 @ 1/3200.

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