Red-Tailed Hawk (Case History #2)

Older nestlings reunited to nest structure in adjacent tree after nest tree was destroyed

A cattle farmer knocked down a rotting tree on the edge of a cattle pasture in Cullman County, Alabama in the summer of 2005.  In the wreckage of the tree he discovered two older nestling Red-tails.  Raptor Network volunteers relayed the birds to the Wildlife Center the same day, and both were found to be unharmed.  Volunteer Bentley Vaughn from Decatur agreed to reunite the young birds, although there was nearly a week’s delay owing to work being done on adjacent fields. The day before the birds were to be sent back, Bentley scouted the field, and spotted an adult Red-tail in flight.  The next day he returned with the young hawks, and volunteers Michelle Eddy and Brian Blue.  The team placed a ladder against a large tree on the edge of the pasture, not far from the original nest tree.  At the top of the ladder they placed an anchor bolt, and Bentley continued the climb wearing rapelling gear for safety.  Bentley made the substitute nest of interwoven branches, a structure which took some time to install. At 4 p.m. the nest was still not finished, and they had seen no sign of the adult birds.  As they hurried to complete the nest, they thought it would help to play the recorded calls of the juveniles, to speed the reuniting process.

Bentley reported that it was just minutes later that one of the adult birds came whizzing in through the fringe of woods that lined the field, flying at top speed below the tree line.  The bird flashed past them and flew out over the pasture to perch at the top of a tree on the far side of the pasture.  The team hastily completed the nest structure and installed the two juveniles.  The older juvenile only stayed in the nest a few minutes before jumping to a nearby branch.  The younger bird settled in the nest.  When Bentley played the calls again, an adult Red-tail flew over again, but did not approach the young birds.  The team waited a while for the bird to return, but eventually concluded that their presence might be preventing the adult from approaching the juveniles, and decided to leave.  The following morning the cattle farmer was at the pasture at dawn, and saw an adult bird in the new nest tree, perched above the nest with the brancher.  The younger bird was still in the nest.  Bentley checked the birds for the next three days, and always saw all three birds in the same tree, close together.

As this case clearly demonstrates, when you return a lost juvenile to its parents, the adult birds are almost always somewhere nearby, even if you can’t see them.  The calls sometimes bring the adults out of hiding, so you can verify the reunion, but in many other cases they are actually staying out of sight waiting for you to leave.  Unless you are reuniting very young nestlings, it’s always a good idea to leave the birds overnight.  In many cases, the family will be seen together  the following day.

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