Looking For Hawks on Migration
Watching hawks migrate can be done anywhere along their migration route. There are well known hotspots where hawks can be seen in great numbers on migration. But you don’t need to travel far to see hawks on the move. If you are on a flyway, you can look up to see them wafting south on currents, or using the front end of a cold front for a push of speed. Food is also on their minds and some of the best views of hawks migrating are when they come down out of the heights to hunt.
Check out communications towers for Peregrine Falcons. They often use the towers both for a vantage point and also because they can position themselves at the same height as migrating songbirds. They will look like a tiny dark speck as they sit perched (see the bird perched in the middle of the grid?)…just waiting for a flock of small shorebirds to fly by during the day or songbirds at dusk or dawn.
Peregrines can also be seen perched on beaches – sometimes on fences or posts, or even just sitting on the sand. Small shorebirds like Sanderlings or Wilson’s Plovers are their target here, and you can watch them herd the flock into a tight ball and then break one bird free hoping to nab it for a meal.
I was watching a Coopers Hawk the other day worrying a flock of starlings into a tight ball, which he then flew through. He was unsuccessful in the hunt, which was a surprise, but then again, even the best hunters don’t always score.
Look for migrating raptors in the sky of course, but also wherever there might be easy prey. Sometimes you can get even better views of them hunting than riding the winds above.
Posts Tagged ‘falcons’
What Are Those Hawks Doing?
Cold weather doesn’t seem to put much of a damper on hawks when its time to mate. Now is a great time to
listen for mating calls and look up to see the amazing aerial displays some raptors make. You can see some hawks like Red-tails circling overhead and flying in tandem in the sky. Some eagles and hawks will even clutch talons and fall through the sky together! It’s an amazing show and often accompanied by lots of loud calls!
But all this is made even more interesting because of what hawks are about. Most hawks will remain with the same mate for life and use the same nest year after year. Hawk and eagle nests are complicated and in some cases, enormous affairs. Eagles especially will build and repair their nests year after year until they often weigh over a ton.
A lot of hard work goes into hunting to feed their chicks, so it makes sense to raise a new brood every year with the same trusted mate. But once they have finished raising the kids, everyone goes off on their own. First the juveniles leave the nest and some take off together. Then the males and females each go their own way for the winter. Most pairs will then return to the same location and meet up in the late winter to start breeding again the next year. If one of the adults doesn’t show up, the remaining adult generally will find another mate and remain monogamous with that mate during their time together.
Making Tracks With Ospreys
Ospreys are the second most widespread raptor in the world — second only to Red-Tailed hawks. Colloquially known as the Fish Hawk, Osprey make their annual southbound journey each year starting as early as August. This fall, Ospreys have been counted again in the thousands migrating through some of the biggest migration stopover points in the country. But where do they go? For the past several years there is a group in New England, Ospreytrax, which places geolocators on Ospreys and provides a real time map that tracks the movements of adult and juvenile birds on the east coast.
Transmitters are harnessed to the bird’s back and show the daily movements and patterns of these awesome birds. Apart from the information gained from these tracked birds, it pretty cool to check in and see where each bird is at the exact moment you go to the site. Currently they have 24
tracked birds – and by mid-October you could see that over half of them were already in South America! It’s also interesting to see the various routes they take. Some of them are not successful and you see that as well. But it’s a good way to see what these big raptors do during migration and how long it takes them to get where they’re going — some are lingerers, and others seem to be on a quick timetable.
If you are interested in following Ospreys – maybe there is one they have tagged that is from your area. So, check their website periodically for updates and check out the fabulous sound of the Osprey.
Hawks and eagles are top predators. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have challenges — most of which come from humans. From hitting power lines and being injured or killed in windfarms while hunting birds to being hit by cars, shot (often intentionally) and poisoned, raptors needs our help – even more than most other birds. If you see a hawk that needs help, what should you do?
Most importantly, if you find an injured bird, don’t try to handle it yourself! Both you and the hawk might be injured. Plus, there are laws governing wildlife and there are people specifically licensed to take care of injured wild animals. There are wildlife and some specific raptor rehab centers across the US and the folks there are trained and licensed to handle these birds safely. Call a local center immediately and let them know what you have found. They will take the bird and try their best to rehabilitate it which means they will try to return the bird to the wild. This doesn’t always work as sometimes the bird has too much wing damage, for example, and will never be able to hunt. But don’t make this determination yourself. Make the call and let the pros take it from there.
I had an experience several years ago with a juvenile Red-tailed hawk. It was Thanksgiving and the bird was sitting on a low fence in the backyard. When I went out to see him, the bird didn’t fly away. This wasn’t normal and when I looked closer, I discovered the bird was very thin and had bones sticking out of his mouth — his last meal had gotten caught in his throat and he hadn’t been able to eat in some time. Despite it being Thanksgiving day, I was able to reach a rehabber who came out immediately and took the bird. They were able to cut the bones sticking out of his mouth and push them down, letting nature do the rest. They kept him for a few months and then released him back to the same location where he has been bothering the songbirds ever since. This may have been a story with a very different ending if he had not gotten help right away.
Rehab centers sometimes will let you visit them – but sometimes they will not as they may have birds or animals who are fragile or easily agitated. Often they don’t have the staff to take care of visitors. They are often funded by private donations, so if you want to visit and they permit that, offer a donation for this privilege. Even if you can’t visit there are always ways to connect with the centers, and by becoming a member, you can take advantage of what they have to offer. If you call with a bird that needs help, if you are able, please try to give them some financial aid as it costs a lot to take care of an injured wild animal. But if you cannot, don’t let this stop you from calling for help! It’s more important to get the bird in need help right away.
Here is a listing of some wildlife rehab centers across the US. Check online for more licensed wildlife rehabilitators.
Why do Peregrine falcons sitting on the beach seem so unnatural to me? Seeing them soaring over the city or swooping over flocks of shorebirds on migration is how I think of them. Their drives into flocks of shorebirds create changing elliptical masses of birds intent on confusing their attacker. The shapes the shorebird flocks assume in flight fleeing from these fast moving birds is stunning — from the dark side view of the flock which quickly morphs into a flash of silvery feathers and wings all beating in harmony with one another, and making swift changes of height and direction. Although it seems like it would be difficult to outfly a predator such as the Peregrine, this rapidly moving mass of tiny birds often is a very effective means of escape. And when I see this hunting technique, the Peregrine looks like a large, dark form low in the sky, chasing, maneuvering around that flock and running them down with great speed and agility.
A few mornings ago, I walked the same shoreline I always walk, and there seemed to have been a small log that had washed pretty far ashore. It wasn’t there the day before and I presumed it was at a slight angle because it had become stuck in the wet sand as the tide moved out. I went closer to investigate, and what I thought was a log…was a Peregrine falcon, just resting on the beach. The shorebirds seemed unaware of his presence – still plying the sand at the water’s edge for food. Perhaps he had just been successful in a hunt and they knew there was no danger? But there he was, on the sand, just over the small dunes from a couple of houses, sitting quietly.
It’s migration time for hawks now and it seems every day I see them flying over the beach. Never too high – just high enough to scare up whomever is at the shoreline, hoping the odds are in their favor for a meal that particular time. And then occasionally, they take a short time resting on the beach — looking out of place and more like a log than the fastest bird in the sky.
Climbing the Verrazano Bridge and dodging the attacks of Peregrine falcons while trying to band their chicks is all in a days’ work for Chris Nadareski who works for the DEP — and one of whose many jobs is keeping a sharp eye on the Peregrine population in NYC. Led by Chris, Barbara Loucks and Barbara Saunders of the DEC and our friends at The Peregrine Fund, I had the privilege of visiting one of the 15 Peregrine falcon nests in New York City. We made our way past the ventilation equipment on the 50 something floor of the Met Life Building to check on the status of the nest box.
After opening the back door to the nest box just a crack to make sure the coast was clear, Chris opened the door fully and we could see the arresting view from this midtown aerie with its empty nest. This is a sad occasion as it is believed that something has happened to the female Peregrine as the male as been seen flying alone the past several days. Not that he might not find another mate and they could have a clutch later in the season. Chris told me that in fact sometimes they have a clutch of Peregrine chicks in late June when this happens. But right now is the general time to be seeing Peregrine chicks hatching and so Chris, Barbara and Barbara have been going nest to nest the past week, banding the new chicks and just making sure things are going as planned. Given the success of the NYC Peregrines to date, including 4 chicks at 55 Water Street, the Met Life Building nest was a disappointment.
While the view was stunning, equally as arresting was the debris in the nest box. Feathers from Cedar waxwings and red-shafted Flickers competed for space with the odd tiny bird skull.
Alas, it appears this male Peregrine has lost his mate this year. And while there is a possibility that if the male could find another mate this season and they might still have a clutch of eggs, for now, there was no scrape and no evidence of any nesting behavior in the Met Life nest box. Maybe next year there will be a pair of Peregrines and they will be as successful as this nest box with 3 chicks in Boise brought to you by The Peregrine Fund. Until then, on Park and 42nd Street, we will just have to watch the lone Peregrine fly in and out of his amazing aerie.