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Monday, May 7, 2012

Red-shouldered Hawks Chicks Hatch in Downingtown

If you were following the blog last spring, you might recall that I posted about a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks nesting in my neighbors, Catharine and Mark's yard, here in Downingtown area of Chester County. 
Three chicks successfully fledged in June of 2011.

I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of winter/spring 2012 to see if the pair might re-use the nest, and they did indeed!

The adults were seen near or sitting at the nest site in the mature oak tree often in February. This seemed to be a favorable sign for nest site fidelity. 

By March 13, I was seeing an adult sitting on the nest, where only the tail was visible...This would be ten days earlier than last year's 3/23 presumed incubation start date. Since we had a mild winter, the earlier nesting date was not terribly surprising. That said, it may be one of the earliest, if not the earliest ever, record for nesting documented here in Pennsylvania (last year, I found out there was a site in Bucks County that was one day earlier in hatching than our 3/23 date). 

March 13, 2012. A Red-shouldered Hawk sits on the nest with only the tail peeking over the tip. This seems to indicate that incubation has begun.

On March 17, I spotted the two adults in a tree nearby. They were only there for a few minutes, when one flew back to the nest to resume incubation. 
The two adults appear to take a quick break from incubation 3/17

The nest was quiet for the next few weeks.  An adult was noticed sitting quite still with only the head or tip of tail peaking out the rim of the nest. On April 4th, I got to watch the "changing of the guard" when one adult took over the incubation for the other (both sexes share incubation duties). In the below image, you will see the wing of the departing bird as it swooped down off the nest.
Both sexes of Red-shouldered Hawks will take turns incubating. In this image, one adult arrives to relieve the other, and the other flies out of the nest for its break. 

On April 15, I noticed the posture of the adult sitting on the nest had changed. The bird was still in the nest, but sitting higher, and not in an incubation posture. It is impossible to tell if there were chicks in the nest, but this change is a hint that something was going on.

April 15, 2012...The adult is noticed to be sitting higher in the nest than during the previous weeks. Have the eggs hatched? 

On April 20, I watched on of the adults bring a small gray rodent to the nest, while the other adult was sitting in the nest. The one adult ripped apart and ate part of the rodent (vole?), then flew off. The sitting bird sat on the rim and ripped the prey up more, took a few gulps, and appeared to be carefully shredding the animal. I thought it was very possible the bird was also feeding very young chicks, but it was impossible to determine.

April 20, 2012. ..One adult sits on the rim of the nest after bringing in some food. You can just barely see the second adult the left of the one standing. It's presumed there are tiny chicks in the nest at this point.

On May 6, two downy Red-shouldered Hawks were finally spotted peering above the rim of the nest! I could clearly see two at once, but it is possible there is another in there that I couldn't see. From comparison of last year's photos of the chicks, I suspect these chicks are about three weeks old. This age fits with the change I saw on 4/15, where the adult seemed to sit a little higher in the nest. This would put the hatch date right around April 15, which correlates with the March 13 presumed start of incubation.

The Red-shouldered Hawk chick stretches it's downy wings 

In this image, the chick is facing the parent bird, as it stretches it's wings out and shakes it's tail. 

     It will be fun to monitor the growth of these chicks again this spring. With the leaves fully grown in now, it's going to make viewing and photography a bit trickier. That said, if I get some decent images, I will post again with updates! 

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