By Bob Holeman
I’m calling my column today “Hawk Tale Finale” for two reasons. First is because I’ve received a number of positive comments about the hawk stories, I think folks may be interested in hearing how it winds up. Second is the word “finale” which should give readers the relief that I’m not going to keep falling back on this little bird for my column inspiration.
Backgrounding the story, Diane and I have enjoyed watching a pair of red-shouldered hawks (the smaller cousin of the common red-tailed hawk) as they raise a brood each spring, train them to fly and hunt then push them out of our wooded neighborhood to find their own territories. Imagine our delight that they chose a tall pine in our front yard to nest this spring.
We first noticed the activity in early April. It was April 11 that we first spotted the fuzzy white heads of chicks (or eyasses), three of them, in the nest 60 feet up. I grabbed my camera and tripod and began taking pictures like a good (former) newspaperman should.
When we left off with the second column, the first eyas had fallen from the nest April 19 and we buried it in the front garden. Two days later, the other two chicks lay helpless on the ground near their tree. At the advice of a WL&F raptor rehab expert, we crafted a makeshift nest from a milk crate and pine straw, gently placed the birds in it and secured it to their same tree, some 20 feet high. Happily the parents accepted this alternative to raising the two survivors.
OK, you already had that information from Stories 1 and 2. What happens next? Mom and Dad hawk perform a tag team of feeding as we see them bring snakes and frogs and lizards and other treats for the two. We watch the two fuzzy babies (pigeon-sized by now) through the crate’s lattice. One does seem more dominant that the other. Then on April 25, we no longer see two, just one who we refer to as Junior. No body is thrown from the nest, just one eyas always ready for a meal.
The growth and activity of this young hawk is impressive. Maybe not amazing due to the amount of food, though. By April 26, the young hawk whose body is still mostly fuzzy white, has grown hawk-colored feathers on his wings and perches on the edge of his crate nest to try them out. We’re thrilled, watching through the camouflage observatory in Laura’s room. It’s like holding your breath while your grandchild tries that first step.
This was also our “Survival of the Fittest” moment of realization. This is a really big bird in a relatively small nest. The crate has been strong enough to support Junior and both parents but as Junior hops on the crate ledge and flaps his developing wings, you know there wouldn’t have been room for his sibling to do the same. Natural selection likely answered the second bird’s disappearance the day before.
As we become more attached to the last bird standing, I figured it was time to give him a name better than Junior. I decided on Wuhan, so that later we can relate our time assisting this hawk family to the other events surrounding our lives. I got no resistance from Diane or the other neighbors who were also watching this Hawk Story, so Wuhan it will be.
Wuhan’s development was so rapid in both size and coloration that often we’d mistake him for one of his visiting parents. His excitement of flapping and jumping was fun to watch and his wings continued to strengthen and grow. It was our neighbor Susan who first witnessed a flight liftoff. She said
Wuhan was flapping so well that he actually lifted a few inches into the air. Oops! Almost like a teenager who thinks he’s done something wrong, Wuhan pulled in his wings, stepped down off the crate and sulked in his nest for a while.
I was working at the Food Pantry May 7 when I called to see how Diane was doing. She urged me to come home, saying it looked like Wuhan was about to fly from the nest. I did. Like anticipating the birth of that first grandbaby, things didn’t happen on schedule. Wuhan didn’t fly that day. So we guessed Friday would be the day. However any flight plans were cancelled due to morning rains and Wuhan looked more like a drenched kitten than a proud hawk. By late afternoon he was dry and upright again and had regained his near-regal appearance.
“He’s gone,” Diane exclaimed, waking me early on the Saturday morning before Mother’s Day. This marked right at four weeks since we first spotted the chicks in their nest. Through the window I checked the yard, saw no hawk corpse on the ground or juvenile with a broke wing and assumed he’d been coaxed by Mom to fly to a nearby tree. We went for our three-mile walk.
It was upon our return that we discovered Wuhan, standing patiently near the fire hydrant, looking from a distance like a tall crawfish chimney, probably waiting for Mom to tell him what to do next. It was Nature that told him, for over the next hour, as the pressure of noise and people in the waking neighborhood increased, Wuhan walked and flapped across the street then gradually made his way into the woods of our dead end. Diane later spotted a hawk, adult or juvenile she wasn’t sure, standing down the road in the woods. It flew to the lower limb of a tree. We’d like to think it was Wuhan.
I’m happy to report that the mother and child reunion happened and that flight training, fledging, is now under way. My earliest assurance that Wuhan had made it was a sighting of Mom sitting on the light pole in front of Ellen’s house, Dad circling in the sky behind and a third juvenile voice calling out from the deep woods.
I had slim hopes that the family would return to their original next in our yard for Wuhan’s training but that didn’t happen. I guess I’m not surprised that Mom didn’t pick a nest that couldn’t secure her three babies. From the hawk talk we hear, we’re guessing they’ve returned to the tried and true nest in Shirley’s yard that held her 2019 brood.
We’re hearing the same hawk talk we’ve heard in springs past as Mom flies to a near tree and calls to the youngster back in the nest as if to say, “Hey kid, turn off the TV and come out and play.” A juvenile voice responds. Occasionally we’ll spot a low-flying hawk moving from one tree to another. We assume that’s Wuhan. Soon we’ll hope to see him in the sky with Mom. Maybe the whole family.
When he’s got hunting skills under his belt, Wuhan may hang around the neighborhood for a while but then he’ll be gone. He will have left us some better memories that this otherwise dreary-news spring 2020.