Drama on the Fourth of July

Mom red tailed hawk carrying prey

I didn’t watch the fireworks on the 4th, I watched what was going on around them. Here is a two-day drama with many photos (54) for raptor lovers: a photo essay. This story is not about coyotes, except for the fact that they were there. Occasionally I vary my blog with non-coyote stories.

As I arrived at one of my parks for observations, I heard the cries of a young hawk. They were loud and plaintive, insistent and incessant.

The coyote slithers into the brush

I glimpsed one of the coyotes only for a split second at the spot where the cries were coming from: The cries seem to have have caught her attention, too. The coyote slithered away and that is all I saw of her this evening, as the cries then were to absorb me totally because right then, the screeching youngster red-tailed hawk came into view. The cries were frantic and so were the youngster’s movements.  I recorded a few seconds of the incessant sound:

Audio of Cries:

I watched the little fellow awkwardly move along the fence-line and then into some dense bushes. The screaming went on and on and on. He seemed desperate: he didn’t like his situation, but seemed unable to do much about it.

Frantic screeching and movements on a fence

Then I heard another cry. A deeper and calmer cry in shorter bursts. I looked out into the distance, and sure enough there was Mom in a tree. You can tell who Mom is by her deep reddish/brown and dark coloring, as compared the the youngster who was speckled brown and white, with a white bib. I wondered why she didn’t come over to help. She stayed in the distance, several hundred feet away, and appeared to be eating something.

Mom perched in a tree nearby

Then, she batted her wings and began to fly. She had a huge piece of prey in her talons. I was hoping she would bring it to the youngster in distress. But, no. Amazingly, NO.

Instead, she flew back and forth between various trees, carrying that huge piece of prey, as the youngster cried and cried for help or food. Mom seemed to be trying to get the youngster to come to her, enticing it with food. It was obviously a fledgeling: this bird was not depending on its wings.

Feeding the other youngster in a far off tree

Mom continued flying from tree to tree with the prey for a few minutes, and then she landed on a far tree branch where I almost couldn’t see her. But the camera still could pick up her image, and it showed that, at that tree branch there was yet another youngster, and she was now feeding that one, and letting the other one continue to screech — that one was perched on a thick and solid branch. The screeching youngster was in a flimsy tree, with no place for Mom to land, and maybe this is why she didn’t try there.

Unstable and screeching on the flimsy top of a dense bush

By this time our youngster had worked his way from the high bushes to the tree they grew around — it looked like it required a leap of faith on his part.

Once there, he hopped and walked — as though balancing on a tightrope — from branch to branch, higher and higher up in the tree, all the time crying its little heart out. I could see that the effort was tremendous, and the bird fell to lower branches several times.

Walking and hopping from the base branches to the very tip-top of the tree

He made it to a safe spot at the top of the tree

I imagined myself trying to do what the bird was doing, without the use of my arms — it was a tremendous balancing act. And now, no sign at all of Mom, and the day was waning into darkness.

A coyote hides from the firework noise

Fireworks were exploding in the distance — I could see how much the “booms” disturbed the animals, no different from the effect on domestic dogs, except domestic dogs have owners who will take them indoors. A male coyote dashed for cover into the bushes after a loud fireworks explosion. I read where one city was now only allowing silent fireworks — what a great idea for the wildlife and dogs!

As the loud and incessant noise continued — booms from fireworks and distressed hawk cries — I spotted little hummingbirds — so very tiny compared to the baby hawk — flitting around the hawk and trying to console it? Or maybe they didn’t like the noise?  I’ve seen hummingbirds do this to coyotes who are howling and yipping in distress after having been chased by a dog — no more than 2 feet away and right up to their faces: maybe they pick up on the mood of the distressed animal. The hummingbirds had been around the youngster hawk for an hour now.

Then it was dark. The cries became less and less frequent, and finally stopped. Hawks do not operate at night, so the story would have to continue in the morning. At night there is danger to young hawks from one animal: owls. But I hadn’t heard any, so maybe they weren’t in the area.

I returned to the park before dawn the next day and all was still quiet. But as dawn broke, the incessant cries of the youngster could again be heard. I found the tree where the sounds were coming from — he was still in the same tree — but I could not see the youngster itself hidden in the tangle of tree foliage. And I could hear the other youngster again. I could not see Mom. Somehow I knew that Mom would end up feeding the hungry little fellow — both of them. I knew that this was routine drama that all wildlife has to cope with. It was calming to conclude this, but the event was high drama to me anyway.

A coyote makes his daily rounds

The coyote who had been scared by the booms of fireworks now appeared. He was making his daily rounds. It was a new day. I moved on to other parks.

Sleeping through the bird drama

In the evening I returned. I was greeted by the coyote who appeared amused that my attention was absorbed by the bird drama: he looked at me quizzically. Coyotes are much more aware of what is going on than most people think — including of intentions. He curled up not far from me to sleep in the sun and probably keep an eye on me. As the coyote did this, the hawk drama continued.

Day 2: Mom again is out enticing fledgeling to move

Mom now flew again with more prey towards the fledgeling, but it was futile. The youngster had not moved in 24 hours. He was out on a weak limb and she could not land there, which probably didn’t matter anyway since she was trying to get him to come to her, maybe to use his wings.

Blue scrub jays heckle Mom

So she perched in a nearby tree and waited. She was in clear view of the fledgeling and so was the piece of meat. If he wanted it, he would have to come get it. Her situation was not easy: she had to be patient and sit there, and she did so for 2 hours as I watched, as scrub jays heckled her. Their skydiving her and screeches were mostly of an intimidating nature, but one actually pecked her head. AND, the hummingbirds were back to watch the show or offer solace.

Mom patiently waits in a nearby tree

And then two things happened. Out of the blue, the other youngster appeared and awkwardly landed on top of Mom who held the meat. They became hidden from my view within the branches of the tree so I could not see the details of what was going on. And, our youngster exerted himself again and was able to hop/fly to that tree which was about 25 feet away.

Fledgeling makes a daring leap into Moms tree from where he hadn’t budged for 24 hours, from 25 feet away

Once in the tree, and still crying incessantly, he hopped from branch to branch, slowly, eyeing Mom and moving towards her. And then suddenly he, too, made another tremendous effort and jumped on Mom, so now there was a pileup of large awkward hawks on a flimsy outer pine tree branch, causing the branch to sag and the fledgeling to slip. This was lucky for me, because now I could see a little of what was going on.

Once in Mom’s tree he eyes her, continues to scream, and heads her way, on foot, not on the wing

Landing on Mom

He slips and dangles by I know not what, but he has the prey securily in his talons

Within seconds our fledgeling was hanging by I know not what (the branches of the tree pretty much concealed just about everything), with the large piece of meat dangling below from his talons.

This is the precarious dangling situation from which he is able to extract himself without letting go of the prey and without falling to the ground. Pretty cool!

Finally! Gulping down some food!

He had made the effort to come to Mom, which is what she appeared to be angling for, and had wrestled the piece of meat from his sibling! Wow! He proceeded  to extract himself from the dangling situation, and then I noticed a change. It was QUIET. The incessant crying had stopped for the first time in 2 days (except for nighttime). From then on until dusk I only heard an occasional shorter cry, not at all like the previous cries, not distressed and desperate. So, all in a day — or 2 days.

No one else was concerned about the drama

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. EllaDine
    Jul 07, 2018 @ 15:29:02

    This is INCREDIBLE, Janet!!!!

    Reply

  2. Alice Chan
    Jul 07, 2018 @ 17:00:30

    I was reading and looking at the photos with one eye closed because I was fearful about the outcome. Can’t take much more bad news these days.
    Thank you for documenting this!

    Reply

  3. Cindie White
    Jul 07, 2018 @ 17:29:59

    Wow! What a thriller. I was on the edge of my seat! Fascinating! I learned so much. What a privilege and TREAT to be so up close and personal….intimate…. with these wild animals. To be privy to their ways of being is extraordinary. I AM SO GRATEFUL. THANK YOU JANET! WOW!

    Reply

  4. Toni
    Jul 07, 2018 @ 18:30:33

    beautiful capture of a real drama. with a great cast , and no director!

    Reply

  5. Lee Cline
    Jul 07, 2018 @ 18:53:12

    Fascinating story!

    Reply

  6. Connie Chambers
    Jul 07, 2018 @ 20:16:52

    What a terrific story and photos! I was so relieved it ended well.

    Reply

  7. yipps:janetkessler
    Jul 08, 2018 @ 05:19:30

    Thank you Alice, Cindie, Toni, Lee, Connie and Ella for your comments on this posting! You know, animals are always doing SOMETHING. Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes not, but it’s always there. If you can zero-in on what that is, there’s always a story to tell. I was able to zero-in on this one. So glad you all appreciated the story as much as I did!! :))

    Reply

  8. Monique
    Jul 09, 2018 @ 21:19:21

    Thank you for this beautiful piece! I’ve learned so much from this lovely tale! This has inspired me to go out and see my own!

    Reply

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