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Monday, May 30, 2011

Red-shouldered Hawk Nest Update

You may recall that I had posted back in March about a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks nesting in my neighborhood here in Downingtown, Chester County.
The exciting news is that after approximately 33 days of incubation, on April 25, 2011, it appeared that at least one egg had hatched ! This could be a state record for the earliest hatching date documented for this species in the state of Pennsylvania.

While it was tough to confirm exactly what was going on in the nest, the behavior of the adults suggested incubation of eggs was no longer occurring. On April 24th, I checked the nest to see if I could detect any position changes of the adult. The bird was still set down low in the nest, just the head barely visible above the rim of the nest, as seen with the spotting scope. This is the position we'd been noting since we believe incubation started. The nest was very quiet, and the property owners, Mark and Catharine and kids, wondered if the hawks were still around.

But, during a return visit on April 25th, I noticed that the adult Red-shouldereds started to behave differently. When an adult (they both share incubation duties) was sitting in the nest, it was positioned higher, suggesting perhaps there was a chick underneath along with some unhatched eggs (they don't all hatch at once). The adults were also seen perched on the rim of the nest often--something not noticed from March 23 through April 24.

Adult on the rim of the nest, April 25th, 2011

From this day forward, increased activity around the nest was noticed, and adults became very vocal and active around the neighborhood once again. For three weeks following April 25, it was hard to see chicks in the nest from the perspective we have on the ground.
But, on May 19 I got a call from Catharine who said she could see one of the chicks peering over the edge of the nest! I was able to grab a few photos that day, and confirmed at least three chicks are in the nest. Adults were also seen at seven to eight minute intervals feeding young.

From the street it appears that three little heads are bobbing in the nest!

Red-shouldered Hawk adult feeding chicks~ May 19, 2011

Red-shouldered Hawk chicks peek over the rim of the nest. The hawks are believed to be about 24 days, or a few less, of age.
May 19, 2011

One week later, at approximately one month of age, the chicks are looking a bit more mature, and are showing some brown feathers on the wings if you look closely. They also seem more confident, and spend more time looking around and taking note of their surroundings. The adults continue to remain vocal, and very active feeding the young. I have seen them in various areas of the neighborhood hunting, and spotted one of the adults carrying a snake towards the nest.

Red-shouldered chick at approximately one month, or 30 days of age, peers over the rim
May 25, 2011

A second chick sits on the right side of the nest, and seems interested in it's surroundings. A third chick, which sits in the middle, is obstructed from view for the camera.
May 25, 2011

Baicich and Harrison's book A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds, states that the young will leave the nest at 5-6 weeks. If my calculations are correct in the age of these chicks, that could be happening in the next week!
Stay tuned....
Adult Red-shouldered Hawk flying over my driveway...Likely on it's way to find some prey for the hungry chicks

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

4 Rails and 3 Owls

Dave Eberly and I went out with  Andy Ednie on a night time excursion looking for Rails
and any other night birds that we could find. Here is Andy's description of that night.

Sorry for the late post but I had to get caught up on my sleep to become
coherent. The DOS ran its rail trip on Friday doing into Saturday morning.
The one thing that will kill night birding is wind and we had plenty. Wind
gusts were up to 20 MPH. We started at Pickering Beach with only one
Virginia Rail talking. Then we went to Port Mahon and had three Virginia
. The old marsh here is absolute dead, no rails talking there at all. I
have not had a rail in that marsh since DNREC decided the marsh needed to be
ditched. There wasn't even a Swamp Sparrow talking here.

We went to Bombay Hook and got a break. The wind actually died down for two
hours. We had a King Rail and Clappers talking for an interesting
comparison. Virginia Rail and Clappers were calling at the Boardwalk Trail.
Common Moorhen, American Coot, and a Sora sang from the Daly Overlook at
Shearness Pool. We also had a Great Horned Owl perched in a snag hunting
over the marsh, Barn Owl in a tree alongside the roadway, and a red phase
Screech Owl poking his head out a wood duck box.
Barn Owl

We ended the night with a quick run into Greer's Pond and had 2 more Sora
and another Virginia Rail. No Black or Yellow Rails found this year. Thanks
to the management at Bombay Hook for allowing us night time access.

Good Birding,