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  • The Saga of Rufous Hawk - 2014 Season
    Published Thu Mar 06, 2014 3:44 pm | Comments: 37 | Last edited Tue Aug 19, 2014 4:36 pm

    Welcome back, everyone!! The 2014 season for the Valley Ranch, Texas, Cooper's hawks has begun!

    If you have not already met Rufous and Henrietta, they are a pair of Cooper's hawks that have nested in R4's yard for six years! You can read all about them at www.coopershawks.com. Now, on to the beginning of the 2014 season:

    February 20, 2014

    This morning Jay & I spotted Rufous in the cypress tree. He seemed to be scoping thing out, and maybe looking for Henrietta, who was nowhere to be found. Guess he's too early? A small orange tabby cat meandered through the yard and passed directly underneath Rufous. He eyed the cat with curiosity but did not make a move. Welcome home, Rufous!!

    March 3, 2014

    As I headed out the front door this morning, I heard one of the hawks calling "kek kek kek kek" nearby. I circled back along the road and - sure enough - there was a Cooper's hawk in the dead willow tree across the street! I nodded to myself with satisfaction and headed back to my car. As I got in the car, I saw the hawk fly down and back across the street, maybe toward old nest tree.

    March 4, 2014

    Today was a warmer, clear day, and Rufous has gone into action! I watched him preening away in the cypress tree. Then he flew to the ground for a stick and up, up, and away he flew to the site of the 2013 nest! I would love it if the hawks nest in the same location as last year!


    March 5, 2014

    It was late afternoon and beginning to get dark when Jay called me to the window. There, on a low limb of the cypress tree, were both hawks! Rufous and Henrietta are together again to start another family! Welcome Home, Rufous and Henrietta !!!



    March 20, 2014

    As the days pass, we see Rufous almost every day, and sometimes catch a glimpse of Henrietta inspecting her nest. Rufous is doing a superb job of spring nestoration, and it's clear they plan to use the same nest as last year! Hooray!!

    Today, I watched Rufous as he flew from the cypress tree to the ground, select a stick, and fly up to the nest for placement, then back to the tree, etc. Once, while he was hopping about on the ground, looking for just the right size stick, a crow swooped down and buzzed him. Rufous took off after the crow like a fighter pilot! The birds lit in a tree across the canal and sized each other up, jumping around in the tree. Then back across the canal they flew, the crow in pursuit of Rufous.

    Crow and Cooper's hawk are about the same size, and I suspect neither would benefit from a conflict, but clearly they don't like each other.

    March 29, 2014

    This morning as our neighbor Sylvia came walking her dog along the canal, I called to her and pointed out one of the hawks perched on a tree limb above her. Sylvia has followed the progress of the hawks from year to year, and I knew she would be interested.

    I went up to the loft and set up my camera, and sure enough the hawk flew to the cypress tree near my window. It was Rufous, and he had brought his breakfast with him! I snapped a couple of photos and was just about to try for a video when Sylvia returned. Her little dog spied Rufous, and ran toward him barking. Rufous was having none of that, and took his meal elsewhere.



    April 5, 2014

    This morning I got up very early, before first light, with one purpose in mind. I slipped downstairs in the dark and opened the back door, just in time to hear it -- the dawn chorus of the Cooper's hawks. They were indeed singing a duet, and their calls seemed a little quieter than I have heard them before. Perhaps they were farther away, for I could not see them. I slipped on my shoes and was just about to edge out onto the patio when two runners came by, just talking away. Then the noise of a trash pickup truck came clanging down the street, and that was it for the day. No doubt the magic moment was over for the hawks as well as for me.

    April 12, 2014

    It is getting very close to egg-laying time. The nest looks nicely refurbished, and I have seen a hawk there several times.

    Early this morning, I was gathering clothes for the laundry when I heard Jay downstairs, calling, "The hawks are in the tree! They're making all kinds of noise and they're mating!" I dropped the laundry and headed straight for my camera in the loft.

    The hawks had finished mating and were still close together in the cypress tree. I got a couple of photos and then this video.



    While I was filming the video, I noticed something amazing! One of the hawks had the streaked breast and yellow eyes of a young hawk! It was not Henrietta!! I was dumb-founded! To be sure, I followed the young hawk as she moved about in the tree, much more active than Henrietta ever was. She turned around, and I got a good look at her back, still marked with a juvenile's white patches.



    It will do no good to speculate what happened to Henrietta. She was six years old, and that's pretty old for a Cooper's hawk. I do not believe she returned this year at all, and the earlier photo was the only sighting of the hawk pair together. I have looked at it closely and, since it is a back view, it's impossible to see who it is. I am glad that Rufous has found a new mate, and I hope they will have success with a family. After all, procreation is the ultimate goal for a raptor of any species.

    The new female flew, and Rufous remained in the tree for awhile. Here is a short video I took of him. He oblidged me by "lightening the load" just before he flew.



    April 13, 2014

    It would be an injustice to proceed with my reports about the Cooper's hawks without pausing for a tribute to Henrietta.

    Henrietta was about one year old when she first came with Rufous to raise her first brood in Valley Ranch. We know because she still had her juvenile plumage.

    No doubt a hawk's greatest successes are measured in terms of its procreation. Here is the record of Henrietta's fledglings:

    Year 2009 --- 1 Fledge
    Year 2010 --- 3 Fledges
    Year 2011 --- 2 Fledges
    Year 2012 --- Nest predated by racoon
    Year 2013 --- 4 Fledges

    We will never know what happened to Henrietta, but we are told that the oldest recorded age of a Cooper's hawk is 12 years, and the maximum age for a breeding female is 9 years. So perhaps she did live a full life, and now Rufous is the survivor. He was at least two years old when he first came to Valley Ranch, and so this year he is at least seven years old.

    Rest in Peace, Henrietta Hawk...

    April 19, 2014

    We have decided to call the new female Roxie. Of course, we look for things about Roxie that are different from Henrietta, and we do notice a few things. Roxie appears to be at least as large as Henrietta, and maybe larger. She is more active and industrious about tasks like nest-building. Perhaps in her youth she is more motivated?

    There's no doubt she is beautiful, as you can see:

    The streaks of her plumage and her yellow eyes reveal her to be young, probably still in her first year. She also still has white patches on her back. We are very curious to see if we can observe her molt into her adult plumage during the breeding season. This remains to be seen.

    Roxie has accepted Rufous' nest as her own. The pair continue nestorations, and the nest is getting large and substantial enough for a clutch of eggs.

    May 11, 2014

    It is hard to tell what is happening at the nest, but clearly something is going on. Most of the time, no one appears to be at home, but occasionally we can see Roxie's tell-tale-tail sticking out of the nest. In the following photo, you can see the tail sticking out to the left side of the nest.


    Every morning, Rufous can be seen in the cypress tree from a vantage point that looks right into the nest. He is on guard.

    Rufous has raucous arguments with the crows that frequent our neighborhood. And occasionally bluejays will torment him -- probably with good cause.

    The hawks sometimes eat their meals in the cypress tree outside our window. It is a mystery to me why our lawn is not littered with feathers! I did find two Cooper's hawk feathers, however -- a tail feather and a wing feather. I hope this is a sign that the hawks are molting.

    May 24, 2014

    At last there is a change in the nest. Roxie is sitting up higher in the nest, and we can actually see her. We are almost certain there are eggs in the nest, and it's possible they are beginning to hatch. In this photo, you can see Roxie in the middle of the nest and her tail extends all the way out of the nest to the right.


    Here, Roxie is perched on the edge of the nest.

    In the meantime, Rufous continues his vigil. Things have quietened down around the nest, however. When Rufous wants Roxie's attention, he announces himself with a single "kek." These birds have a secret that they aren't telling anyone!


    June 1, 2014

    Almost certainly there are hatchlings in the nest. Mama Roxie does not want to show us, however. She is clearly disapproving of the humans with the black box that keep watching her nest!


    Almost every photo I take is exactly alike. There is Roxie giving me the "eye." This is one protective Mama hawk!


    June 6, 2014

    Finally, we can see a tiny hawk in the nest! He appears to be looking up at Roxie, maybe wanting to be fed. Roxie's brood is lagging behind Henrietta's old schedule by a few days -- perhaps as much as ten days.


    In this photo, the buffy down of one or more hatchlings can be seen in front of Roxie. How many are there??


    Notice the white patchy fluff in the nest? I believe we're seeing Roxie's molted feathers. This spring, we have watched the nest cams of other accipiters, notably goshawks and Eurasian sparrowhawks. Both of these mother hawks molted their breast feathers while incubating their eggs -- an effective use of downtime! (no pun intended)

    June 7, 2014

    This morning we saw no movement in the nest. It looked like everyone was sleeping in. But around noon, things started perking up. Click to see video:



    And here's another video. How many do you see?



    June 10, 2014

    There are at least two chicks in the nest. Tonight I took a photo from the east side and from the north side of the nest and saw two different chicks.



    Now watch the movement of the two chicks in the video:



    June 14, 2014

    Two days ago, Roxie began guarding the chicks from a branch about three to four feet above the nest. It is the same vantage point that Henrietta chose last year. Roxie can watch every movement her chicks make, and swoop down on an intruder at a moment's notice.



    The sun was behind her, so this photo is not the best. I will try to catch her again posed like this. She still has not molted her juvenile plumage.

    I turned the camera to the nest, just in time to see two chicks jump up, but before I could focus on them, Roxie had somehow sent them the alert to lay low, and I saw no more.

    June 16, 2014

    I can see movement in the nest and an occasional glimpse of a downy outline, but no chicks peering over the edge of the nest yet. I believe the nest bowl is quite deep, and the chicks are safely contained at the bottom of the nest -- for now.

    Today, I saw a climber -- a chick struggling to reach the nest rim. He must be so curious to see the world outside the nest!



    You can see the climber's foot, and it is huge! The foot looks almost as large as the chick itself, and long sharp talons are ready to grasp anything within reach. It won't take the young hawk long to grow fast enough to catch up with his feet!

    June 17, 2014

    The little hawk has finally succeeded in climbing up to the nest rim, and here he is!! There's no stopping him now!

    I was amused to observe that the young hawk does not look quite so helpless as a hatchling might. As a matter of fact, he has the look of a little "tough guy" about him.



    Something about the little hawk made me think of my Dad and the stories told about his youth. When Dad was only a child, he worked as a "news butch" on a passenger train, selling newspapers and sandwiches to the travelers. He kept a jar of mayonnaise on the train, and when they reached the first stop, he would run out to a market and buy fresh bread and bananas. His banana sandwiches were big sellers! As he grew older, Dad became a telegraph boy, and rode a bicycle everywhere! He eventually became an endurance athlete and held a record for the longest non-stop bicycle ride.

    So, thank you, little hawk, for bringing me such pleasant memories of my father's youth. I shall call you Butch, in my Dad's honor!

    June 20, 2014

    Now everyone wants to climb up to the edge of the nest! Today, I took more than a dozen photos of Butch and Sundance moving all along the nest rim and peering down at me.



    Roxie does not like me standing below the nest with the black thing pointed up at her nest. No, she does not care for that at all! Sometimes she will fly from her lookout above the nest and perch in a tree across the street. Roxie, that doesn't distract me at all! I know what you're up to!

    As I carefully inspected the photos, one of them caught my interest! In the photo below, you can see Butch and Sundance very clearly. Now look to the left, and notice the sun shining through the tawny down of a third chick! There are no eyes or beak in the photo, but the chick is there, hiding behind the leaves! Three in the nest! Are there more?



    June 23, 2014

    It has rained most of the weekend, and I have wondered whether Roxie attempted to shelter her chicks as she did when they were younger. I was able to take a few photos this morning and can see that the chicks have developed quite a few feathers, even on the tops of their heads. They may have enough feathers to keep themselves dry.



    Regardless of whether she is needed in the nest or not, while I was snapping away, Roxie dived into the nest and snuggled down, wings flapping and long tail sticking out behind.



    Roxie's intrusion created quite a stir in the nest, and all three chicks clamored on top of her to peer out.



    What do we call the third chick, you may ask? Well, when I asked Jay if he would like to name Butch & Sundance's sibling, he replied, "Sure! Ruthie!" Ruthie??? Hmm... Okay, so it's Butch, Sundance and Ruthie. Maybe if a fourth chick makes an appearance, we can call him Billy the Kid.

    June 24, 2014

    The young hawks are developing their feathers quite nicely now. Here is Sundance, perched on the rim of the nest, showing off his/her big-guy juvie plumage. Notice the down still clinging to the top of his/her head, looking very much like dandelion seeds.



    Tiny dark feathers covering the ears develop early in Cooper's hawks, and by this stage of their development, begin to poke out, making them look like little clowns or zombies.

    June 25, 2014

    Today Butch decided to go exploring. These photos are taken at two different angles of the nest. In the first photo, he is perched on a stout stick above the edge of the nest, peering down at me intently. I like this photo because it captures the true color of a young Cooper's hawk's eyes. They are blue, and will gradually turn yellow, until after the first year, when they begin turning red, deepening in red with the passing years.

    In the second photo, he has moved to the nest rim and seems to be thinking about his next move. Notice the brown feathers appearing high on his breast and on his head.



    Butch's flight feathers, at the wings and tail, have developed nicely too. Watch this video, as he hops outside the nest, teeter-totters on a support limb, then quickly heads back to the safety of the nest. Notice Sundance watching from the center of the nest.



    June 26, 2014

    Perhaps Roxie is getting used to the human with the black box. This morning, I took photos of her as she preened herself and looked all about. She seemed to be bored with my appearance and studiously avoided giving me even a glance.



    Roxie does look like one fierce mama hawk. If I were a predator, I would think twice about tangling with her. I try to make my visits brief so I will not disturb her routine too much. If she is feeding her chicks, I pick another time to watch. (After all, a big bobbing hawk bottom is all you can see at feeding time anyway.)

    The hawk chicks were mostly napping this morning, although I did get a glimpse of Ruthie peeking out of the nest.



    June 27, 2014

    This morning two of the young hawks were intently watching something above them in the tree.


    Then a third little hawk joined them. You can see him/her behind the support limb on the right.


    Looking up to see what the little hawks were watching, I could see another hawk in the tree, on Roxie's perch. But it wasn't Roxie! It was Butch! Awaaay up in the tree, at least four feet above the nest, there was Butch, clinging to a good-sized limb.



    But wait a minute!! Didn't we just count three little hawks in the nest? And there is Butch in the tree? If my math is right, that adds up to four young hawks!! Let's take another look in the nest.



    Sure enough, peeking out from behind the support limb is a fourth hawk chick. Welcome, Billy the Kid! Just like Snowbird said, you are a good hider!

    Now let's take another look at Sundance, still clinging to the safety of a small branch that extends just above the nest. Sundance will be next, following closely behind big brother.



    Even as I snapped the photos of Sundance, bold Butch fluttered to another branch in the tree. I hope you can see him in this photo. I can only make out a few feathers.



    June 29, 2014

    Jay and I were preparing our morning mugs of coffee when I heard something I have longed to hear for years: the sound of a female Cooper's hawk. Roxie was calling very near the open patio door with a vocalization that the experts say is almost always that of the female. They say the female Cooper's hawk has as many as 42 different vocalizations!

    What we heard this morning sounded like "WHAaaa" repeated at intervals of several seconds. Now, hold your nose and say "WHAaaa" and you'll sound just like a female Cooper's hawk!

    I walked outside to see if I could spot her, and there she was in the cypress tree, busily preparing breakfast for her rapidly growing brood.



    The experts say that the female calls out with the "WHAaaa" vocal during or after retrieval of prey brought by the male.

    Roxie still has her juvenile plumage and yellow eyes. I wonder when she will change?

    June 30, 2014

    The oppression of Texas summer has settled upon Valley Ranch. Afternoon cicadas hum and vibrate, making the very air seem to throb with the waves of heat.

    Today the little hawks were still, and I could not see any of them out on the tree limbs. One hawklet (or "cooplet", as Hbrga calls them), lounged in the nest, with wings spread to catch any breeze that happened by.



    July 1, 2014

    The cooplets are out in nest tree. Eager to explore, they hop and flutter from limb to limb, like tree rats.



    They seem to be studying everything around them, figuring out which limb to grasp and what will be their next adventure.



    July 3, 2014

    Last night I watched as the little hawks shared a meal. Little hawk bottoms rimmed the nest and tails bobbed up and down as they took their turn at their snack. I could hear them chirping faintly.

    During the night there was a summer storm, with lightning, thunder, and rain, but no high winds. The skies are still overcast this morning, and I walked out to see what the little hawks were doing. Nobody was peering out of the nest. Nobody was hopping the limbs of nest tree.

    Then I heard the familiar "eee-eeww" of a little begging hawk. He was in the still-wet bough of a cypress tree near nest tree.



    Then I heard a second little hawk, in the cypress tree near our house. As I was trying to snap a photo of the first hawk, the second one flew, little wings flapping, back to nest tree. He landed at a vantage point just above the nest, then moved to Roxie's perch, to await delivery of his breakfast.



    I am still amazed at how rapidly the flight feathers of these young birds have developed. Their growth is not complete, but that doesn't stop these fledglings.

    July 5, 2014

    The fledglings seem to like hanging out together. At least two of them are together a lot, although I can't be sure it's the same two every time!



    Looks like fledgling Cooper's hawks know all about perching on one foot, even at this young age! I also catch them spread forward on a limb, with one wing askew. They try to behave like grown-up hawks, but they're not ready to go for it full time!

    July 6, 2014

    The fledglings favor the cypress trees near nest tree (which is a live oak). The cypress boughs afford them natural coverage, and the shaggy bark of the tree is easy to grasp. To get an idea of what their talons are like, enlarge the fourth photo below and prepare to be impressed!



    Several of the young hawks flew, squealing, to nest tree, where they continued to whistle and beg. I walked over and took this photo, thinking it was one of the juvies. After enlarging it, however, I noticed the red eye and very long tail. It is Roxie! She is finally beginning to change, with the color of her eyes deepening to orange, and the feathers of her breast having a less distinct vertical striping.


    Later in the afternoon, grandson Wyatt came by for a visit. As he came into the front door, he announced, "Nana, there are three hawks in the tree!" We all went outside for a look. Indeed there were three hawks, and I had no camera! As soon as we walked closer, a fourth hawk flew from higher on the tree where we could not see him. I followed him to a nearby cypress to confirm that he was a fledgling. Yes! Once again we have confirmed a brood of four!

    We also found a mass of feathers in the yard, the remains of what probably was a grackle or starling. We did not see such evidence while the young were still in the nest, but now things are different. Providing food for four hungry fledglings is no doubt a challenge, and the parents do whatever is expedient to capture and prepare prey for their young.


    Once our visitors were gone, I took my camera and headed back out, still wanting good photos before the fledglings figured out they should not allow us to get too close. This little hawk rewarded me!


    July 9, 2014

    OH... be still, my beating heart! They are going to pose for a group photo! No... wait! Get IN THERE, Billy the Kid! Flap flap flutter flutter. To the top of the tree goes Billy the Kid! Ah well, here is a photo of three of the four. I believe that is Ruthie on the left; she is a big girl. Then the smaller males, Sundance and Butch on the right.


    July 10, 2014

    This morning I took the camera out to see what new mischief the hawks could be getting into. Everything was quiet in the cypress trees. Then I heard whistles in nest tree. Then more and more soft whistles. I walked around to nest tree, and there they were -- having breakfast! Roxie's long tail was bobbing up and down, as she busily fed her family. No doubt the young hawks are capable of feeding themselves by now, but Mama still likes to do it.


    Two or three of the little hawks could feed at one time, and the other one or two had to wait his/her turn in the branches above the nest. From time to time, one would fly down and displace a sibling at the nest (which has now become a dinner plate). Roxie allowed her youngsters to figure out the feeding order by themselves.


    I made this video while aiming my heavy camera straight up with no tripod, so it's very shaky. But it still may interest you, so if you play it, turn up the volume so you can hear the soft whistles of the feeding hawklets.



    July 11, 2014

    Last night, we parked our car in front of the house. As we drove up, I could see a hawk on our chimney cover. It was Rufous, and he was not prepping supper for his brood; he was eating his own supper! Today, I spotted one of the little ones on the roof. Perhaps he thinks he can find a bird up there like his Dad did.


    Little hawks seem to be everywhere now! They whistle and beg all the time, and their cries seem to fill the air. It is my belief that the parents have begun to cut back on the rations so their youngsters will begin to hunt on their own.

    July 12, 2014

    As if to confirm my suspicions that the young hawks are beginning to learn how to hunt, Jay and I watched from our loft window this morning as two of the little ones tried to ambush a squirrel. One hawk approached from the ground on this side of the cypress tree; another flew at the squirrel from the other side. The squirrel simply moved around the tree trunk, out of harm's way. After many attempts to catch the squirrel, the hawks gave up. One of them moved over to a shady spot in the grass and sulked, while three squirrels taunted him mercilessly, chasing each other right in front of him.

    July 13, 2014

    Around noon today, we saw one of the young hawks fly from the ground to a lower limb of the cypress tree. A second hawk was perched there. They both watched one of their siblings, who was perched on a limb just above them, eating a snack! A fourth hawk moved from limb to limb, begging piteously for a piece of the meal, to no avail. The youngsters remained as they were just long enough for me to finally get a photo of all four together!


    A few minutes later, they all flew to another cypress tree, and I was able to snap another photo of them.


    Again I noticed that one of the four young hawks is quite a bit larger than the others. It is likely that the larger youngster is female, and the three smaller ones are males.

    Seeing the fledgling hawks together like this makes me emotional. Tears come to my eyes, as I recall Bent's account of William Brewster's 1925 report (http://www.coopershawks.com/lh_history.html). Thankfully, times have changed, but even so, I can expect that only one or two or these little hawks will survive to become adults.

    July 14, 2014

    There are three cypress trees clumped together between our home and nest tree. Chances are, if we want to know where the fledgling hawks are, we have only to step outside and listen. Pretty soon we will hear the whistling call of one or more of them - eee-eww. Then it is easy to locate them, most likely somewhere in the gnarly branches of one of the cypress trees.


    This morning I spotted one of the small males, who seemed oblivious to my intrusion. Another small hawk was perched very near him, but hidden by a large limb of the tree. Higher up in the tree was the larger female. I could hear the fourth hawk calling from some distance away.


    Would you believe that, a little later in the day, this proud-looking young hawk was squealing for something to eat and jostling his way to the nest for a food drop? Yes, I learned this evening that the parents are indeed still dropping food into the nest. First come, first served!

    July 15, 2014

    This morning I looked up from my orange juice to see one of the juvie hawks in the cypress right outside my window. He was eating his breakfast too! Here is a video:


    I walked outside to get a better look, and took several photos. He was in no mood to leave his meal!


    Wait a minute! Enlarge that middle photo! What in the world is he eating???

    After much discussion with Raptor Central experts and Texas Birds peeps, there is no consensus on the species of the prey. It's a good-size bird with long legs and big feet and pretty big talons. The majority opinion was -- grackel, although the legs do not look as dark as grackel legs should. Hmmm.

    All evening, I kept walking out to try and get a count. I will just feel better knowing all four fledglings are still safe and sound.

    July 16, 2014

    This morning I continued to walk about under the cypress trees and nest tree to see what the fledglings were up to... and to get a count. Suddenly two of the young hawks flew across the canal and up onto our rooftop, one chasing the other. Then, in one of the cypress trees I located two more, moving about from limb to limb. That makes 1-2-3-4!! All four fledglings are accounted for. Now I can breathe easier!

    July 19, 2014

    The fledglings have become more evasive, although they still give away their locations by whistling and begging for food. As I walk about to see where they are, I will suddenly see one peering down at me with a startled expression; then s/he will quickly hop to another branch just out of sight.

    I have not noticed the fledglings feeding at the nest for several days, although one or more of them sometimes hangs out there watching for a food drop. There is no way to tell whether all are receiving enough food, but they all behave as though they are hungry. All four young hawks appear to be healthy and active. They are now old enough that their flight feathers should be full length, and they may be hunting on their own.


    July 22, 2014

    This morning, all was quiet in the cypress trees and nest tree. I walked beyond nest tree and spotted the young hawks in a dead willow tree. One was eating breakfast, and two others were restlessly watching and occasionally begging for a handout. But to no avail. Sharing is not in the vocabulary of juvenile Cooper's hawks. I did not see the fourth hawk; he seems to always be late to the table.


    July 24, 2014

    The life of a juvenile hawk has come down to one persistent question: "Where is the next meal coming from?" To be sure, they are developing their hunting skills, but bird-catching is not easy! To broaden their chances, they keep tabs on their siblings; if one of the others finds a meal, maybe there's enough for all. Or maybe s/he will drop it. Or maybe I can steal it! Then there's always good old Mom and Dad. Every now and then, one of them will bring a meal. Who will get it? Maybe the most aggressive one; or maybe the one who is in just the right place at the right time.

    With all those variables in play, the scene shapes up something like this: All will be still and quiet for awhile. Then someone makes a move, and suddenly the trees explode with little hawks shooting out like rockets, pursuing the lucky one. When it becomes obvious that s/he has things under control and settles down to eat the meal, the other hawks sit and watch restlessly, occasionally begging.

    This is what happened tonight, when one of the young hawks caught his own small bird. He flew to a low limb of nest tree, where I was able to take photos as the feathers flew. I later retrieved one of the feathers, black and only about 3-1/2" long. The prey was probably a young grackle or blackbird.



    Another of the young hawks, one of the small males, perched nearby and watched. He grasped the tree bark much like a nuthatch would, with his long third toes balancing him as he faced down on the tree trunk.


    Only a short time later, there was a flurry of activity in nest tree, and I saw at least two of the juvie hawks in the nest. I have no clue what they were doing there, and they did not stay long.


    July 27, 2014

    Today the oldest of the young hawks is 56 days old (to the best of my calculations). It is a significant milestone, because, according to the experts, the juvenile hawk's feathers are hard-penned at this age. The blood that once flowed through the shaft of each feather, allowing it to grow, has now dried up, leaving mature feathers. The important flight feathers are now "hard-penned" to the bone, and the juvenile hawks can hunt and maneuver through the trees with less risk to their fragile "blood" feathers.

    As if to put their feathers to the test, today two of the juvenile hawks decided to try squirrel hunting. I watched as one approached a squirrel on the ground, with wings and tail spread in "attack mode." The squirrel turned to confront him, and he stopped dead-still. He surely must have been thinking, "What the heck do I do now??" Both squirrel and hawk turned and fled.

    A second hawk hopped about in the cypress tree only a couple of feet above a squirrel. This time, the squirrel casually munched on a snack, while keeping one eye on the hawk in case he needed to move out of the way.


    July 30, 2014

    This morning, all four of the juvie hawks were in the trees along the west side of our canal. With a pair of binoculars, I watched two of them corner a squirrel on the ground. But they were not cooperating; they were competing! While hawk #1 was chasing hawk #2 away, the squirrel escaped into a nearby tree. The hawks flew about, seeming to quarrel with each other. Then their siblings joined in the action. It must be very difficult for one of them to catch anything. As soon as he draws a bead on potential prey, his siblings rush in and blow his cover!

    August 11, 2014

    During the first days of August, the juvie hawks seemed to be in a frenzy, zooming through the trees and chasing anything that moved. As a neighbor once said, they are "wreaking havoc up and down the canal."

    Last Friday, our 9- and 11-year-old grandchildren Patrick and Jennifer came to visit. They burst through the front door, excited and flushed, with the news that they had chased the hawks south along the canal. They both seemed to enjoy looking at the album of 2014 baby hawk photos.

    Now all is still once more. As though a switch has been turned, quiet has descended upon the neighborhood. An occasional angry bluejay call is the only indication that one or two of the young hawks may still be nearby. But it's likely that they have reached a point in their maturity that their instincts lead them to leave the group, to seek a place where prey is plentiful and each one can hunt alone. This is the life of a passage hawk.

    So farewell to you, Butch and Sundance and Ruthie and Billy the Kid! Rufous and Roxie have done a fine job, raising four healthy young not only to fledge but also to passage. Soar high and hunt well!



    Once again, Patti has worked her magic and put together an album of the photos into video form. Thank you, Patti! I love it!



    Until next year . . .

  • The Saga of Rufous and Henrietta Hawk
    Published Thu Mar 07, 2013 2:23 pm | Comments: 33 | Last edited Tue Aug 19, 2014 4:33 pm

    Rufous and Henrietta Hawk are a Cooper's hawk couple who raise their family in the middle of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Their territory includes the home of forum member Raptorz4ever, who has kept a diary and photo album of their activities for four years.

    For Rufous and Henrietta's history, go to www.coopershawks.com for the full story.

    Year 2009 - Fledged 1
    Year 2010 - Fledged 3
    Year 2011 - Fledged 2
    Year 2012 - Brood lost to predator

    Now it is 2013, time for a new nest and a new beginning. The hawks arrived back in the Valley Ranch community on February 14, Valentines Day. They are busily building a brand new nest in the top-most fork of a 75-foot live oak tree, well out of harm's way.

    February 14, 2013

    It’s Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air! Rufous and Henrietta both flew into the cypress tree today to announce their return! It’s really good to see them in their old territory, and I can’t wait to see where they will decide to build their nest.

    Last year’s failed nest is still partially intact, with a substantial platform of sticks that could be refurbished. But every time I pass that tree, my eyes trace the predator path that still exists from base of tree right into the nest itself. I do hope they will not return to this tree. However, I am not about to try and advise Rufous and Henrietta on their choice of a nest location. They have far more experience than I do!

    Henrietta high in tree; Rufous below


    February 16, 2013

    It’s the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count, and that is surely an excuse for a nice hike! I set out, hoping to be able to tick off a couple of Cooper’s hawks I know, but no such luck. Rufous and Henrietta were nowhere to be found.

    My hike followed the Valley Ranch South canal, over to Sam Houston Trail Park, along the Trinity River for about a mile, and back along the North canal, a distance of abut five miles and my favorite route.

    As I entered Sam Houston Trail Park, I saw the shapes of two large birds in a mesquite tree. Using my binoculars, I could see that they were hawks, and as I crept closer, I was thrilled to see they were Cooper’s hawks! It is the first time I have seen this pair together, although last summer I heard their young calling and saw one of the hawks. Then, during the winter, when the leaves dropped from the trees, I found their nest near the place where I heard the fledglings. In my heart, I am certain that the male is Slats, the 2009 chick raised by Rufous and Henrietta. Of course, I have no way of proving that, but I will take literary license and call this pair Slats and Silva.

    I watched as Slats left Silva’s tree and flew in increasingly wider circles as he soared upward. Moving higher with each thermal, he soared north, directly above his nest for two huge circles, then northward. Before long, he returned, wings spread wide, with straight leading edges like a cross.

    As gratifying as it was to see these Cooper’s hawks, it was the end of the bird count, for I saw no more songbirds the entire length of the walk along the Trinity. I suppose they had seen the Cooper’s hawks too.

    During my entire walk, I did count eleven different species, more than a hundred birds, most of them mallards. On the return leg of the trip, two women asked me if I was a birder. (I have never thought of myself as a birder; after all, birds are raptor food! I considered for a moment how I should respond, then glibly lied, “I do study birds.”) When I showed them my list of species I had counted, their jaws dropped. They had planned to take their kids to the zoo so they could complete a school project to identify a dozen different birds. Amazing what you will see if you just look up, and around!

    February 23, 2013

    This morning Henrietta was perched in the cypress tree watching Rufous as he flitted about, moving from limb to limb. Watching him, I knew that he was looking for just the right stick. He snapped one out of the tree, and I held my breath as I watched him swoop out and up, into the live oak tree nearest our house. I could not contain my excitement!

    Henrietta is large and has lighter brown feathers on her back.


    Rufous’s back feathers are steely grey.



    Rufous continued to select sticks from the cypress tree and sometimes from the ground below the tree. Each time he flew up to the same spot, high in the live oak. Thank goodness they are building well out of harm’s way in a tree that is close by. In fact, it is the same tree where they built their first nest and raised the families of 2009 and 2010. The nest is not in the same spot, but close.

    Henrietta continued to watch Rufous as he industriously flew back and forth with nest building material. Finally, she reached out and, with a single snap of her beak, captured a fairly large stick and flew with it up to the new nest site.

    March 2, 2013

    To my chagrin, laborers arrived on Wednesday to repair the walkway that runs directly under the hawks’ nest tree. Their work continued on Thursday and Friday. We are happy to have the walkway replaced, but fear what this interruption has done to Rufous’ nest-building plans.

    On Friday and again today, I see that Rufous is an “early bird,” and gets his nest-building done early in the morning. Today, he was finished with his activities by around 9:00. This is encouraging! Hopefully when the workers return on Monday, their noise won’t bother the hawks at all.

    I did notice today that the nest appears thinner than it did a week ago. Some of the sticks must have blown down by the wind. On Friday, I saw the hawks mate briefly, so bonding has begun in earnest. Rufous needs to get busy!

    March 11, 2013

    During the past week, the hawks have continued nest-building on every calm, fair day. They do not work in the rain, and they do not work when the wind is blowing, which happens often in Texas. Despite some downtime, they are making progress on the nest. Viewed from below, you can see that daylight still shines through the nest, so more work needs to be done.



    March 16, 2013

    Tonight, just at twilight, Jay saw both hawks fly to the cypress tree nearest our house. Shadowy silhouettes close in the gathering dark, they mated, then Rufous side-stepped out and away from Henrietta on the same limb. After a few moments, he flew, but Henrietta remained quiet and still for another fifteen minutes or so before she flew.

    March 24, 2013

    The nest appears to be complete. Rufous has taken advantage of every nice day to fly in new building material. The nest appears to be almost conical in shape, about 18” in diameter, and maybe 12” deep at the center.

    This morning, we saw Henrietta standing on the side of the nest. Is she inspecting Rufous’ handiwork? Is she thinking of laying an egg? Is she surveying her kingdom? Whatever is on her mind, she knows that her work is about to begin in earnest.



    March 27, 2013

    Disaster strikes!

    As I left the house this morning, I saw tree landscape trucks working on the far side of the canal. No problem, I thought, since tree trimming had been done weeks earlier on our side of the canal. They’re just working on the next part. Right? Wrong!

    When I returned in the afternoon, they were just finishing up. The hawks’ courtship cypress tree was gone! Sheared off at the ground! The landscape trucks and a wood chipper were parked right beside the hawks’ nest tree. The whining, grinding wood chipper was just finishing the last limbs of the cypress tree. And Henrietta and Rufous were gone!

    I sought out the head tree cutter-man and let him have a piece of my mind. I told him the hawks were protected, and he said, “We haven’t touched their tree.” Didn’t care. Didn’t bother. He told me red-tailed hawks had eaten two of his dogs! What a jerk! I turned on my heel and shouted, “Progress!” over my shoulder.

    Where are Rufous and Henrietta? Will they return? Why would they?

    March 29, 2013

    Yesterday, I worried and grumbled about the wood chipper and my hawk neighbors. This morning, I went out early, and – no hawks. But, when Jay left the house around 8:00, he rushed right back inside and announced, “Henrietta’s back on the nest!”

    I am so happy. Surely nothing else bad will happen! I grabbed my camera & went back out. Using Jay’s shoulder as a tripod, I snapped Henrietta’s photo from our front walk.



    April 6, 2013

    All week, Henrietta has spent most of her time at the nest, mostly perched on the nest rim. By Friday (yesterday), she was completely down in the nest, with her tail or head sticking out. From this behavior, we believe there are one or more eggs in the nest. Like all raptors, she lays her eggs asynchronously, about two days apart. Each egg must have time to develop inside her body, travel down her oviduct, and form a hard shell before it’s ready to lay.

    On Wednesday, Jay and I had a nice surprise. Nickolas and Nathan, our favorite eight-year-old twins came for a visit, with their mom Kelly. They ran upstairs to the loft and watched the hawk nest using my binoculars. Then they ran outside and could see Henrietta standing over the nest. It’s so much fun to share the hawks with kids, although this pair was more interested in going back to the playground, where they had parked.



    Yesterday afternoon, I saw one of the hawks fly to the nest and place a new stick, so they are still working on the nest. This will continue, even after the young have hatched and until they fly from the nest. The hawks have not, however, been seen in the cypress trees, near the tree that was cut down last week. They likely perceive that there is danger in this area, because of the disappearance of one of the trees in their territory.

    The hawks now fly into the tree from across the street, where they perch in live oak trees. And this is cause for a new concern. One afternoon, as I was parking my vehicle, Henrietta swooped low, crossing the street, then soared upward into her nest. Her flight path was so low, in fact, that she could have been hit by a car if one happened to drive by. Too much speculation, Betty! Let’s not play “what if” with nature!

    April 13, 2013

    Rufous has begun to perch again in the cypress trees. Perhaps they no longer sense a threat there now. It’s a good vantage point to keep an eye on Henrietta and the nest. All the eggs must have been laid by now, as we seldom see Henrietta anymore, only a tail sticking out of the nest.

    Today, we met a new neighbor. Sreegan lives directly across from us on the corner. He was carrying a DSL camera when he came up to introduce himself, so I showed him where his next subject matter could be. He was thrilled to see the hawk nest.

    About the same time, Keith strolled over. He is maintenance man for the condo complex we live in. Keith has been watching the hawks for some time, and has developed a real interest in them. He and his kids have even been looking at our web site and reading about hawks from home. His question: Have you thought about putting a camera in the tree so we can watch them? Boy, have I ever!! Good question for next year. We’ll see.

    April 17, 2013

    Last night we had a terrible storm. I lay awake listening to the wind howl and leaves blow against my window, thinking about Henrietta and wondering how she was faring. The nest is high in a fork of an up-reaching limb, so it really sways in the wind.

    This morning there is no sign of Henrietta. Perhaps she is deep in the nest, but we don’t see her tail.

    April 19, 2013

    Still no sign of Henrietta.

    April 21, 2013

    We still see Rufous in the cypress trees, almost every day. Today blue jays screamed at him and chased him all the way to the top of the tree, irritating him so much that he finally flew. I wonder if he had one of their young for lunch earlier?

    April 25, 2013

    Today, Jay thought he saw a bird in the nest. Going back for a second look, we could not see anything. But… just a glimmer of hope?

    April 25, 2013

    Henrietta is back in the nest! Her tail sticks out like a giant rudder as the nest flows in the breeze. Where has she been? The nest is so small, only about 14” in diameter, she couldn’t possibly have been down inside… I don’t think. Part of her would have to stick out. She has fooled us like this before, and I am so glad to have her back. Now, how long has she been incubating eggs??



    May 1, 2013

    We continue to observe Henrietta in the nest every day. Her tail may point North, South, East, or West, but she is there.

    This morning, Rufous came to the cypress tree with his breakfast. Here is the crude video I made while he enjoyed his meal, obscured by the new growth of cypress leaves.

    Click on pic to view video:



    May 9, 2013

    Today I walked out to take a look. Henrietta was on the nest as usual, with a tip of her long tail sticking out. As I was watching, a technician with Oncore energy equipment came to check out a utility box near the bridge. His name is Carlos, and he walked over to see what I was watching. Oh, how I love to tell Henrietta's story! He asked me what the hawks looked like, and suddenly Rufous obliged by flying to the nearby cypress tree, where we could get a very good look at him. Carlos tells me that Oncore might be able to supply an electrical outlet from the utility box.

    May 14, 2013

    We have a hatch! At least one of the hatchlings has arrived!

    This afternoon our neighbor Debbie was out walking Charlie, her friendly blonde mutt. (Debbie and her husband Jim have lived in Valley Ranch even longer than we have.) She reported seeing an eggshell near the nest, and Jay hurried out to take a look. Sure enough, he came back with the fragile half-shell cupped in his hand. The membrane inside the egg was still pliable, so we knew a hatchling had recently emerged. We were surprised to find that the egg is almost as large as a hen egg, and I took some photos for comparison. As you can see, the eggshell was smooth and slightly off-white, with tan speckles and swirls. We could detect only the slightest tint of blue in the shell.



    May 16, 2013

    Last night a Level EF-4 tornado ravaged the town of Granbury, near Dallas, killing 6 people. There was not much to do in Valley Ranch but wait, hope, and pray. We could see the cypress and live oak trees whipping about in the wind, and knew that Henrietta was clinging to the nest for her life and the lives of the tiny, helpless chicks beneath her.

    When morning came, I held my breath as I hurried out to survey the damage. Although wind was still gusting, the nest was intact. And there, like a banner of hope in the storm, sailed Henrietta’s tail. What a brave Mom she is!

    May 19, 2013

    Henrietta no longer hunkers down in the nest to brood her chicks. We now see her mostly at the side of the nest, or braced just above the hatchlings. In the video, you can see how even a mild wind tosses the nest. It is hard to imagine how the nest survived Wednesday night’s storm.

    Click on pic to view video:



    May 26, 2013

    Yesterday I saw Henrietta feeding her brood. Mostly what I saw was a hawk bottom and tail, but the movement of her head told the story. She was bobbing up and down, tearing pieces of meat from fresh prey, and feeding her chicks. I wonder how many there are?

    Today Henrietta was perched on a limb very close to the nest and just above it where she had a good view of the chicks. We could see her body and tail very clearly, but her head was hidden. I wonder if Henrietta thinks she is hidden when she can't see us??



    May 30, 2013

    Jay and I check on the nest every time we leave the house or come back home. Tonight, we looked to see if Henrietta was perched above the nest as usual. Then suddenly, we both saw movement in the nest! A tawny-colored blob appeared right in the center of the nest! One of the chicks was moving about! I ran inside to get my camera, and when I returned there was more movement in the nest -- a flutter to the right, then another tawny blob on the left. There may be three little hawks in the nest!



    Henrietta was not happy with our attention. Soon she flew to the nest to make an attempt to settle her now-active brood. Good luck with that, Mama Hawk!

    June 4, 2013

    Every day we see the little hawks in the nest. At front and center, almost always perched where he can see and be seen is a bold one that I have named Captain Jack Sparrow. To Cap'n Jack's right (our left in the photo) is Matey, who is always there by Cap'n Jack's side but remains hidden except for the top of her head.



    On the far side of the nest, I finally found William Tell, and got a good picture of him.



    Looking closely at the far side view, I am not 100% certain there's not a fourth nestling in this small band of buccaneers.



    About an hour later, I went out to take another look at the little hawks, and found them moving around and flapping their wings. Watch closely, and you'll see all three: Cap'n Jack in the middle, Matey flapping her wings on the left, and at the end of the video, Will gives us a wing-wave from the right.



    June 6, 2013

    The hawk chicks will not be in the nest very long. They are three weeks old now, and their juvenile plumage has already begun to show. Active, playful, and curious, they flap around in the nest and look about to see the great world around them.

    As hatchlings, they were covered with short white down, faintly tinged with a cream color. This natal down has been replaced by a second coat of long, woolly, pure-white down. And now, dark feathers are appearing, first on their wings and tails, then spreading to cover other parts of their bodies. At this stage of their development, the wing feathers (remiges) are about one-third grown and the tail feathers (rectrices) are less than one-quarter grown. The feathers are still partly covered in sheaths that the young birds will soon preen away.

    In this photo, as Jack leans down to peer at the ground below, dark feathers are apparent on his head.



    And here is a photo of Matey, as she finally pops up (on the left) from the nest bottom to say hello. Jack remains in the middle, eyeing us through the sticks.



    June 7, 2013

    This afternoon, Jay announced that both Rufous and Henrietta were on the edge of the nest. Of course, I grabbed my camera and rushed outside. When I got set up, there was no sign of the adult hawks, but my jaw dropped when I saw some very good-sized baby hawks up on the edge of the nest. They look like they have grown up overnight, when in fact, they are standing up straight on their legs.

    Baby birds move around on their tarsi (sort of like walking on their ankles) until their legs get strong enough to support their weight. Being able to stand up straight is a major milestone in a raptor’s development. And it appears that Jack, Matey, and Will have all mastered the art of standing.



    June 8, 2013

    Today was a very eventful day! Early this morning, the little hawks were all peering at me from the confines of their nest. I call this photo “Peepers” because you can see the eyes of each one curiously studying the strange creature below.



    Later this afternoon, I walked out just to take a look, and there was one of the little hawks, perched on a branch beside the nest! I expected them to begin moving about in the tree next week, but this seems very early! The little hawk perched confidently for quite awhile, and then fluttered back into the safety of the nest.



    All the while, Henrietta maintained her vigil only inches above the nest. If she is not perched on the limb in this photo, she is probably somewhere else in the tree where we cannot see her.



    We have also seen Rufous on guard duty in nest tree, but more often in a tree nearby. Rufous brings meals to a perch near the nest, where he de-heads and plucks the feathers from his prey. While I was watching today, Rufous called to Henrietta, and she flew out to retrieve the prey he had ready and waiting for her.

    June 11, 2013

    Another day older, and a whole lot bolder, the little hawks are venturing out into the live oak tree. This morning, one was way out on a limb. I could barely see him, until the leaves started fluttering, and I could see his wings flapping. He remained sufficiently hidden by the foliage that I could not get a photo of him.

    And here is the pic everyone has been waiting for! The zombie pic! Here is a shot of a little hawk looking almost exactly like the little zombies in the forum’s slideshow.



    While the boldest of the little hawks ventured out into the tree, another tested a small branch close to the nest, while the third remained in the safety of the nest (or perhaps he knows he will have the best chance of getting a meal if he stays there).



    Here is a video of the soon-to-be-fledgling doing a balancing act on the small branch.



    June 12, 2013

    Last night, just before it started to get dark, Jay and I took one more look at the hawk nest. As we approached the nest, I could hear the familiar eee-ewww call of a baby hawk pleading for food. Sure enough, two of the little hawks had flutter-jumped higher in the nest, no doubt to get themselves on the same level with Henrietta, who remained placidly observing them. I took the following photo, which has become a topic of debate and a downright mystery.



    Here are zoom shots, showing (1) what appears to be a pair of hawks in the upper right-hand part of the photo, (2) the second little hawk clinging to a branch (upper center of the photo), and (3) the top part of the nest, visible at the bottom of the photo.



    Questions:

    (1) In Zoom 1, are there indeed two hawks? Could this be a young hawk with an adult partially hidden on a limb behind it?

    (2) In Zoom 3, the nest, how many chicks remain in the nest?

    Raptor Central forum members engaged in a discussion about these issues last night, and I tend to agree with Dixnora, who thinks Zoom 1 shows a little hawk and an adult behind it; and two chicks remain in the nest. Pop6 pointed out that s/he has stated all along there are four young hawks in the brood.

    On closer examination of an uncropped version of this photo, we found that Henrietta was perched in the tree in her usual place, so if Zoom 1 shows an adult hawk, it is not Henrietta! Hmmm.

    Raptor Central forum members convinced me that there are four young hawks, not three! The fourth one must be a stowaway, since s/he has remained hidden so far. We will call him Stow.

    June 12, 2013

    Today the little hawks were moving in the branches around the nest again. This morning, two of them were perched above the nest. This view of their undersides causes me to doubt that the Zoom 1 photo we looked at yesterday is two hawks.



    June 13, 2013

    The young hawks are getting bolder and bolder. Jack and Will have ventured out onto a different part of nest tree.



    Seeing movement in the nest, I moved my camera. “Aha,” I said to myself, “there are surely two more hawks in the nest.” And indeed there were two hawks. When I loaded the photos to my computer and zoomed in, I was surprised to see Henrietta in the nest keeping Matey company! They both appeared to be intently watching Jack and Will, who were out on a branch beside them.



    Later in the evening, around 7:45, I looked out of a window at the front of the house and saw a bird flutter up to the live oak beside nest tree. The awkward manner of its landing made me wonder if it could be one of the fledgling hawks, so I went outside to take a look. I could hear little hawks calling from all around eee-eww eee-eww and there was a great rush for the nest. A food delivery had just been made!

    I hurried back inside for my camera, and was able to capture this video of part of the meal. Thanks to Patticake98 and Dixnora for helping to decipher the video. We see five hawks: Two of the hawks have tails toward the camera, bobbing up and down as they eat their food; two of the hawks are on branches outside the nest; and a fifth hawk’s tail can be seen on the other side of the nest, bobbing up and down – this would be Henrietta, helping to feed her little ones.



    The two hawks outside the nest may be Matey and Stow, the smallest and youngest of the brood. It is usual for the larger raptor chicks to eat first, and the little ones get what’s left. Hopefully there will be plenty for all. They seem to be doing very well!

    June 14, 2013

    This morning I was drinking my morning juice and watching out the patio window, when I saw movement in the cypress tree. It was one of the fledglings! I snapped this photo, not a very good one, but it shows the bark and needles of the cypress tree. The little hawks are now flying to trees surrounding nest tree.



    June 18, 2013

    The fledgling hawks are all over the neighborhood now. Yesterday evening, Jay and I watched two of them as the sun shone through the cypress tree. We could only see their silhouettes because of the sun, but they appeared to be playing a game of “King of the Hill,” hopping from limb to limb, swapping places with each other, and moving higher and higher in the tree.

    Today, I checked the nest, where we hardly ever see any activity now. I did see two of the fledglings in nest tree, and managed to get a photo of one of them.



    Neighbors frequently look for the little hawks as they walk by nest tree. Casey and Ginger, his red pit bull mix, came by this afternoon. We listened together for the hawks, and sure enough, could hear one calling a little eee-eww whistling call. We will hear these calls for weeks – probably until the first of August – as the young ones call their parents begging for food.

    Later in the afternoon, Linda, John, and their dog Sweetie came by, and we spotted one of the little hawks on the roof of the house across the street.

    June 20, 2013

    Jay had a close encounter with one of the little hawks today. As he was walking toward our front door, the little hawk apparently mistook him for Rufous, and flew straight toward him. The hawk got about ten feet from Jay when he figured out he had made a big mistake and did a fast U-turn, scrambling into a magnolia tree in our front yard.

    By the time Jay fished out his smart phone for a photo, the hawk had retreated to the familiar safety of the cypress tree. But Jay still got a couple of pretty good pics using his phone.



    The young hawks spend a lot of time in the cypress tree, where the branches are relatively small and at right angles to the tree trunk. The foliage provides cover for them and they can still see out. They move around a lot, appearing to play games: King of the Hill, Chase the Squirrel, Hide and Seek, you name it!

    June 21, 2013

    About 7:30 this evening, Jay and I walked about watching for the little hawks. We had no trouble finding them! They were in the trees across the street whistling eee-eww eee-eww. Occasionally one would fly back across to nest tree and then back, or out to the dead willow branch in the greenbelt.



    Soon we figured out what was going on. It was dinnertime! One of the adult hawks flew to the nest with dinner in talons, and all four little hawks were screaming and flapping and pushing and shoving. Someone – or maybe it was two – mantled over the nest, and two others perched nearby, waiting for their turn. The nest still serves a purpose – it is a dinner plate.

    June 22, 2013

    I was just about ready to go for a walk, when I saw two of the little hawks fly from the cypress tree up to our roof. I always take my little Canon point-and-shoot camera with me on hikes, so I got some photos of one of the young birds on the balcony near our roof.



    Hoping to catch a glimpse of Slats or Silva, I hiked over by the Trinity River, but did not see the hawks, nor did I hear any young hawks whistling for food. Perhaps they have chosen a different nest site this year. I saw plenty of other birds, including several cardinals.

    As I came to the end of my hike, I passed under nest tree and saw one of the little hawks in the tree. The young hawk watched me with curiosity as I snapped photos with my little Canon Camera.



    No sooner had I gone inside than Susi started begging for her turn. So I slipped her little walking jacket on her and got her leash, and back outside we go! I scurried back indoors for the Nikon camera this time, because there were two of the young hawks low in the cypress tree where I knew I would be able to photograph them.



    I speculate that these are Jack and Will, the adventurous pair. And Matey and Stow hang out closer to nest tree. But that’s my imagination! Bear with me!



    There very well may be differences in the demeanors or personalities of the young hawks, however. While I was observing, a workman drove out of the greenbelt underpass on a small tractor. Jack remained steady and still, watching him. And what did Will do? Watch the video!



    June 29, 2013

    During the past week, we have seen the young hawks many times in the trees surrounding our home. Once, I even saw one in the middle of the street! Hopefully they won’t make a habit of that. Here is another photo that Jay snapped using his smart phone:



    The constant begging for food has diminished, but we can still hear the whistling eee-eww somewhere after listening for only a few minutes.

    This morning, as I was finishing my hike and heading for home, I heard the little hawks calling. I was about a block north of my house, walking along the greenbelt, when two of the hawks flew up to the roof of a house, one in pursuit of the other. They were both squealing “eee-eww eee-eww,” which I interpret as “mine mine mine,” NO “mine mine mine.” Here is the sequence of events that I saw. The first hawk had prey in his talons, and intended to eat lunch on the chimney cover. The second hawk crept closer and closer… and eventually stole the remains of the meal.



    Obviously, it was lunchtime. As I reached nest tree, one of the parent hawks made a prey delivery, dropping the food right into the nest. There was a great rush to the nest, with squealing youngsters making a bee-line for the meal. One would mantle over the nest; then another would charge in to displace him/her.

    This little hawk waited patiently nearby, watching for an opportunity to steal the meal. I was pleased to note that he/she appears healthy, alert, and active.



    July 4, 2013

    Independence Day! A relatively cool day (low 90's), perfect weather for a hike and hawk watching. The end of my hike took me under the site of last year's Cooper's hawk nest, the one that failed because a predator took the tiny chicks. I looked up into the tree to see if there were any remaining vestiges of the old hawk nest. There were a few sticks left, probably the ones that formed the beginnings of the nest. And -- to my very great surprise -- there was a long tail poking out of the sticks!! It was a hawk!!

    I had my little Canon camera with me, and I wanted to make sure my eyes weren't deceiving me, so I lay down on the rock wall directly beneath the nest and took photos. I soon determined that it was one of the Cooper's hawk fledglings, with yellow eyes and vertical streaks on its breast. The young hawk did not fly, but eyed me with curiosity as I snapped photos. It remained still and quiet as I stood back up and left for home.



    As soon as I had uploaded the photos, I enlisted the aid of Patticake and Pop6 to try and decipher the mystery. Why had the little hawk picked that spot? Why was it laying on the nest, as a mother hawk would to incubate or brood her chicks? Did it know that it was sitting on the remains of a nest its parents had built more than a year ago? Could it somehow tell - by smell or intuition or some other sense - that those sticks on that limb had once belonged to one of its own kind? Had it followed Rufous or Henrietta to that limb?

    Pop6 reminded us that we have seen what may be similar behavior as we watched the web cam of bald eagles at Decorah, Iowa. At Decorah, the parents built a new nest this year, but now that this year's eaglets have fledged, they follow the parents and now frequent the tree where the old nest is located. And Patti, too, thinks the young hawk may have followed a parent there and liked the spot. Simple as that? Maybe, but still interesting!

    Later in the day, Susi and I went out on the patio. When I heard a little hawk in the cypress tree, I was glad I had taken my little point-and-shoot camera with me. I could see the hawk on a limb on the far side of the tree, so I kept the tree trunk between us and slipped up on him. Here are the pics I took from the left, then the right side, through the gnarly limbs of the cypress tree.



    The young hawk was relaxed and holding one foot out, but when he saw how close I was, he flew, squealing.

    July 6, 2013

    Today was another great day for a hike, with below-blazing temperature and a soft south breeze. A half-marathon was taking place on Sam Houston Trail along the Trinity River, so I did not really have a chance to see much wildlife. I did see the young Cooper’s hawks when I returned home though. One was perched in the dead limb of an old willow tree beside the greenbelt. Another flew into nest tree, soaring in with wings spread wide and straight like a cross. He looked like an adult bird until I saw the tell-tale streaks on his breast. As he flew into the tree, I heard him call kek-kek-kek softly, so he is already acquiring his adult vocals.



    Susi and I went out to the patio for a cool-down, and I heard the chatter of a squirrel. I listened for a minute, trying to determine where he was, when I saw a mockingbird flying around. The mockingbird was not happy; in fact, he was furious, and charged into the cypress tree, where (guess who?) one of the young hawks was stalking the squirrel. Suddenly, the little hawk exited from the tree in a rush, with the mockingbird in hot pursuit right behind him!

    July 24, 2013

    For days, we have caught glimpses of the young hawks in flight, often one chasing the other. No doubt, this has become more of a competition for food than a game. By now, the flight feathers of the birds are fully developed. The blood has receded from the tender shafts, leaving a sturdy feather that is “hard-penned” to the bone. Only now can Rufous and Henrietta leave their chicks to hunt without fear of injury. The young predators-in-training have all the equipment they need for successful hunting. What they lack is experience — successes, failures, and time must provide that.

    We can still hear the young hawks calling occasionally. The call is a little lower-pitched and more strident now. They have probably learned that hunting is best performed from a position of stealth.

    Last evening, I walked about listening for the call of a young hawk and heard only the pulsing hum of cicadas, resonating in the trees.

    August 5, 2013

    All is quiet in Valley Ranch again, except for the trill of mockingbirds and the occasional cry of a blue jay. Today I saw a pair of cardinals swooping low through our yard. A juvenile robin perched on the very cypress branch where I once photographed one of the young hawks. Life has returned to normal for the songbirds.

    This morning, while I sipped coffee with my friends Jim and Judie, we noticed flying insects swarming outside. It is the year of the cicada-killers. And so events continue, as one species continues down the food chain to another.



    Farewell, Rufous and Henrietta. Stay healthy and return to our back yard again next year. We’ll be waiting and watching…

    The End... for now

    P.S. A wonderful postscript: Here is a video Patticake98 made of the season!



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