QUAIL MUTTERINGS #9. Bye-Bye Baby Buteos; Hello Accipiters (July 15, 2011)
Good things don’t last forever. But sometimes they last longer than we expect. I feel so fortunate that I got to watch those juvenile Red-tail Hawks for almost two months before they presumably left the canyon for larger territory. Daily, or sometimes more often than that, I headed out with binoculars to enter into the private world of my “baby Buteos.”
I could hear them calling periodically throughout the day, pleading with a parent to “Bring Food!” Their requests were incessant especially at dawn and dusk. No matter where they were on the canyon walls I could hear them, and therefore find them, to spy on their not so private childhood. Often there would be only one youngster visible.
When a parent would fly over, the juvenile would really start to carry on. The meal would be delivered and set down and then the parent would quickly leave. Almost without fail she would circle higher and higher, sometimes kiting (hovering), probably to get a better view of the next meal victim. The young Red-tail would then study the morsel before pecking at it and eventually devouring it. Raptors are carnivores and attack their prey aggressively. I’d see the parents bring mice, rats, a snake, and small squirrels or rabbits – slightly bigger prey.
I’d be thrilled when one of the younglings, at dusk, would come settle for the night in the tall eucalyptus tree near our house. The other one was sometimes in the old eucalyptus across the creek in the same tree where their nest had been. I’d go to bed content knowing that my baby Buteos were nestled safely right outside. I had fallen in love with them.
My oldest daughter, Jessie, came home for the summer, from China, where she’ll return in the fall for a second year teaching English. On Monday evening, July 11, the two of us took a walk up the canyon. We stood on a boulder and watched both juveniles and a parent fly around and take turns landing on various rocks and trees up on the north ridge. Last week, during my morning run, I had watched one of the youngsters come in a little too fast, for a landing on top of a yucca plant, of all things, having to flap wildly to stop his forward momentum. I handed the binoculars to Jessie so that she could peer into their world, glimpsing a special moment of shared life in the canyon. We humans are not alone. There are so many intertwining lives that exist here, apart from us.
That evening was the last time that I saw or heard, for sure, my baby Buteos. I expect they were ready to expand their horizons. The canyon’s not all that big. It amazes me they stayed as long as they did. I’ll probably see them soaring above, but just not realize it’s them, specifically. I miss them, but know it’s for the best.
By Friday, four days later, I notice the young Cooper’s Hawks have just fledged their nest, high in an oak tree directly over our dirt road out front. It’s a good thing that we are the only traffic around. The two adults have been active here for a couple months, flying back and forth through the oak canopy hunting for their prey. Being smaller raptors enables them to sprint through air and foliage quickly. Unfortunately, they eat song birds. We live in an incredible bird sanctuary here. I don’t like the idea of my little musical friends getting eaten, but I know the Cooper’s Hawks need to survive too. I’m glad I haven’t witnessed any of their hunting missions. They tend to vocalize a lot and are quite bold. I witnessed one of them pestering a juvenile Red-tail Hawk when they were still around.
Their nest also happens to contain two youngsters. One of them seems to like hanging out on a branch near the nest while the other prefers his home sweet home. We watched one of the parents bring something in its beak, stopping momentarily to drop it in the nest before taking off again almost immediately. The kids squawked and squawked before the nest dweller won out and the other went back to its branch. I hope this one is getting enough to eat and not just perching out on the limb to keep from getting bullied. I’ll keep watching.
Two evenings later I hear one of them calling. I walk over to the road and look up. The noisy one is on the branch and the nest dweller is quiet. I can see it moving around up there. As I look up at the branch sitter I tell him how beautiful he looks. These smaller raptors are Accipiters, being smaller that Buteos. But they’re not that little. Certainly too big, I would have thought, for bathing in the bird bath that stands in the front yard. It was quite a sight. I saw him do it a couple different times over the next few days. I guess he doesn’t know any better yet. Maybe his mommy didn’t tell him he’s a Hawk.
So it’s not time to put away my binoculars yet. There’s more to see and learn about out in our front yard. For now, I’ll be watching my “Baby Accipiters,” spying through tree limbs for a closer look.