Red Tailed Hawk Fledgeling Plays With A Rock

For variety, occasionally I write about other animals than just coyotes — and this post is about one of these non-coyote animals.

I found the Red Tailed Hawk fledgling I wrote about several weeks ago playing or practice-hunting with a rock. I had never seen anything like this before and wonder how ordinary, or quirky, or super-intelligent (or the opposite) this behavior is to be able to play like this?  Then again, maybe it’s an indication of character, individuality and special interests as in anyone else — why not?  She was persistent in her play and really fun to watch — almost as fun as watching the coyotes! A few days later, I saw her playing this same way with a pine cone, and before that I saw her attacking a gnarled twig on the ground as though it might be a something edible.

Addendum: I spoke to our local bird specialist, Dom Mosur, who told me that this is normal behavior, that hawks indeed do play with rocks!!

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

Let’s Address a Little-Known Law that Promotes Hunters, by Kiley Blackman

As the war of words rages stronger than ever over gun violence and how to deal with it, there is one little-examined contributing factor that needs attention: The role of the overwhelming hunting culture going on all across this country.

Where does it start? All “environmental conservation” agencies, including the Department of Environmental Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and APHIS, have a requirement that, by law, only hunters can serve on their advisory boards. These laws, established almost 100 years ago, guarantee a deckstacked, lethal outcome for the wildlife they are intended to protect – by deliberately banning non-hunters from decision-making about wildlife, while encouraging all forms of hunting as the “norm” for wildlife “conservation.”

At a time of calls across the country for gun control, these arbitrary, discriminatory laws that baselessly promote hunting need to be examined, as well. In fact, breaking the hunter/National Rifle Association stranglehold on our laws must be finally be addressed.

Such laws are being challenged all over the country: “Pro-wildlife citizens demand seat at DNR table” (Madison, Wisc.), “Fish and Game commission needs greater diversity” (New Hampshire), “Hunting foes want to snare seats on Vermont’s fish and wildlife board” (Vermont). The public needs to be made aware of these facts – and that there is finally a bill to correct this injustice in New York State: Sen. Tony Avella, champion of several other animal protection issues, has introduced S3327 (companion bill A6519), currently in the Environmental Conservation Committee, which abolishes the unfair “hunters only” requirement of the NYS DEC. We don’t want to take your guns; we just want our right to contribute our voice – yet, hunters vociferously fight such change.

Hunters indignantly insist they are the only ones “qualified” to oversee these directives – and claim their license fees entitle them to a special, exclusive position on the DEC advisory board. But the fact is, “non-consumptive” users of NYS parks (defined as bird watchers, wildlife photographers, etc.) are at a record high, with almost 72 million visitors in 2017, yet they have no voice in DEC policy making. This is an outrageous injustice, with hunters stridently objecting to each and every suggestion for modifying this slanted system.

The DEC homepage states, “One of DEC’s main responsibilities is to protect New York State’s wild animal and plant populations,” yet it’s next to impossible to find anything on their website except pro-hunting advice, lists of wildlife killing contests, where to kill animals, fairs and other public events that are “admission free” for hunters, etc..

As the national movement and demand for gun control and banning assault rifles – both of which hunters fight against passing – steamrolls across the country, the effort to pry their undemocratic monopoly of wildlife management away from them is hard fought, as hunters – who supposedly stand for America, democracy and the Flag – attempt to deny us our rights. Hunting is in decline, and the hunters know it, yet they hold all the cards; their suppression of democracy just adds more taint to this questionable, antiquated and cruel activity.

An innocent woman walking her dogs upstate is dead because of hunters, and it’s not the first time that has happened. With the DEC’s excessively-promoted hunting culture in place, upstate New York residents fear going out to their own backyards during hunting season, and children at the tender age of 12 have been empowered and encouraged by the DEC to slaughter animals for sport. In Syracuse, the DEC confiscated a pet squirrel they deemed “illegal,” but they promote and encourage squirrel killing contests. Despite nationwide marches for gun control, a NYS bill awaits votes that would allow hunting in densely populated cities. Although studies have been done on the strong correlation between animal cruelty and violence toward human beings, a current NYS bill would permanently lower the age for universal hunting licenses from 14 to 12 years old; while Florida officials answer the call for gun safety by raising the age for gun purchases from 18 to 21, our senators and the DEC want to put more guns into the hands of children. The “hunters only” DEC law must change: In 2018, we expect all our voices to be enabled; we expect kindness, respect and saner, more measured input to prevail for all. Until the Avella bill passes, suppression and denial of our civil rights to participation in government process will define the DEC. This is not the American way – and it certainly isn’t democracy.

Kiley Blackman
Founder, Animal Defenders of Westchester
(reprinted with permission)

A Nice Compliment!

I received a wonderfully supportive email a few weeks ago from Dan De Vries. I asked if I could post it and he said yes.

“Hello Janet, I imagine you have seen this by now, but just in case I’m forwarding it.  Much in this brief essay reminds me of your work. Keep it up! And, yes, feel free to use my name.  One of the things that struck me was that Jane Goodall doesn’t have an academic degree in a science.  Which makes her a citizen scientist (of the world).  I believe that there is definitely a place for humanists in the “natural” sciences.”

I’ve received this same compliment numerous times, but this time it was with the attached article which indeed shows a lot of overlap! Thank you, Dan!

Happy Holidays to all of you caring coyote advocates out there!

WildCare’s 2017 Photo Contest winners. If you are looking for a place to donate, consider WildCare in San Rafael.

A Coyote’s Story, by AWARE

What follows is the story of a terribly injured coyote rescued and rehabilitated by AWARE. If you want to make more stories like this possible, please give what you can to their year-end campaign. And come back on December 17 for a video showing footage from his recovery!

Early this September, a coyote pup was making his way through a quiet pine forest in rural Fayette County when he came upon a long-forgotten rusty fence. While he was either exploring it or trying to get past it, his front legs become trapped, and he found he could not get away.

The coyote shortly after intake, scared and hiding under a towel.

We’re not sure how long he stayed there, stuck in the fence without food or water, but we do know that a rescuer found him on a stormy Wednesday morning and brought him to AWARE.  When he arrived, AWARE Wildlife Care Supervisors Marielle Kromis and Julia Sparks brought him to our exam room to perform an intake exam. They found that he was very dehydrated and had severe injuries to both front legs. It was clear that he had been struggling to pull the legs free, as the damage was on both sides of each leg. They were both extremely swollen and the wounds were so deep that both the radius and ulna on each leg was exposed. The wounds were seriously infected as well. Continue reading at https://www.awarewildlife.org/coyote/

The coyote after several weeks of progress and therapy.

Brush Rabbits in San Francisco?


Yes, I’ve run into a number of bunnies recently in our San Francisco parks — in the same parks where coyotes also live! Because of this, I decided to brush-up on them.  :))

The western brush rabbit, also called riparian brush rabbit is a species of small cottontail which lives in the western coastal areas of the US, including San Francisco. Apparently it is endangered. Ten years ago I had incredible difficulty finding brush rabbits here in the city: I was told that they were a rare sight except at Fort Funston, though I did find a couple on Twin Peaks. That was right before they totally disappeared from Twin Peaks as it was converted to a high-maintenance “native” plant museum landscape of grasslands and chaparral. :((

Now, I’m seeing these bunnies again in a number of our parks — not in the restored “native” chaparral areas or grasslands of the city, but rather on the edges of dense brush, willow groves, blackberry thickets and dead wood piles, where they can quickly scurry to safety.  They eat grasses, shoots and especially green clover and berries.

We all know that rabbits dig holes because of Alice who fell down one into Wonderland. However, cottontails, unlike other rabbits, don’t dig “rabbit holes” or burrows as do other rabbits, but rather use the burrows of other animals, or just hide in the dense brush areas through which they create extensive runways. All other rabbits live underground in burrows or warrens.

They are crepuscular, mostly active at dawn and dusk, as well as nocturnally active. Their main predators here in the city are coyotes, foxes, raccoons, snakes, hawks, and owls, . . . and misguided human activity also hurts them. The protection they use to escape predators lies in their ability to remain absolutely still in bushy areas, or to hop in a fast zig-zag pattern in open fields. They can also deliver powerful kicks with their hind legs and their strong teeth allow them to bite in order to escape a struggle.

Rabbits don’t have pads on their feet — they are furry all over! They are distinguished from rodent species by their two sets of incisors, one in back of the other, whereas rodents only have one set. Male rabbits are called bucks, females are does, youngsters are called kits or kittens, and a group of rabbits is called a colony or nest. The brush rabbits are only about a foot long and weigh between one and one-and-a-half pounds.

Brush rabbits produce two to five litters a year — the average being three — and a litter size is usually about 3 kits. That doesn’t seem like so many to me, and I wondered where the phrase “multiplying like rabbits” really came from, but with a short gestation period of only 22 days, they actually can reproduce quickly. It turns out that it is *domestic* rabbits who really can overpopulate: they potentially can have 1-14 kits per litter and potentially 12 litters a year. Yikes! [See: http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/scary.html]

Wikipedia says that,  “It is estimated the home range of the Brush Rabbit averages just under 1-acre for males and just under .5 acre for females. The shape of these home ranges are usually circular but depending on the vegetation can be different in size and shape. Range use probably is not circular in shape or uniform, but rather consists of a series of runways that directly connect high use areas within brush habitat.”

Several rabbits have been observed to feed in the same area simultaneously, but they maintained distances from each other of one to 24 feet before aggressive chases occurred. Females tend to not overlap in their ranges, while males do, which may indicate that females are territorial. Groups of brush rabbits may serve social purposes, such as predator detection.

Cottontail rabbits are almost completely mute animals. They communicate with each other by thumping with their back feet against the ground, and probably visually. Even so, they can scream and screech quite loudly if caught by a predator.

Yes, as I mentioned above, *humans*, in their quest to be helpful, are actually harmful to them. Please let’s leave their habitat alone — they need the dense brush they live in for natural protection! Also, please don’t try to “save” these critters by trapping them and taking them home. They are meant to be wild and they are happiest in their natural environment, living their lives without human interference. The rule of nature is “eat or/and be eaten”: it’s a harsh one, but I think they, as all animals, would choose a short natural and free life over a long life in captivity: Life quality over longevity. I would.

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