Most of the time I’ve seen prey delivered to a fledgling Red-tailed Hawk it’s dropped off and the kid is left to sort it out. This was the first time I’d seen a parent feeding a young bird who had already fledged. It was a sweet moment.
Hanging out at North Lake in Golden Gate Park last Sunday I watched the Pied-billed Grebes meandering around in all their fuzzy glory, chasing each other and delineating their territories. This one took a break from the festivities to bathe, have a drink, and then do something I’ve never seen a Grebe do… expel a pellet.
A young Red-shouldered Hawk I found below a nest years ago. It had been reared by a very young mother, a second year bird whose molt had stopped during breeding and left her with both juvenal and adult plumage. Her nest building skills were subpar and the nest failed to hold her two chicks, one of whom perished. This pre-fledged bird was checked out at a local rehab facility then returned to a basket in the tree. He fledged 2 weeks later. Now I know that when I hear a Redshoulder screaming right in front of me and I still can’t locate it, I should look down.
This newly fledged female Cooper’s Hawk is mantling to show her sibling it is time to back off. The two of them have been chasing each other through the trees and play time is over. Raptors usually mantle over prey that they want to hide from others. It makes them look bigger, more threatening, and covers up their meal. So it is a bit unusual to see this behaviour from below. I’m amazed at the feather tracts on the back of the head and neck. What a moment.
Here she is transformed into a different creature. She is still keeping an eye on her sister though. There are 4 fledglings, 3 females and a male. The females are busy chasing each other and constantly begging. The male is further along – out on his own, hunting, flying with purpose as he patrols a different patch of the arboretum. I think the males develop more quickly because they are smaller. It is probably advantageous to leave the nest before your three gigantic, voracious and, fierce sisters get their act together.
Another sister gets in a little quiet flight practice near a reservoir. Photographing Coops is challenging. They are so quick and unpredictable and once they get a little sense they become nearly invisible. I never once saw the parents who keep a very low profile. I hope the kids stick around awhile.
The young Great Horned Owls at Golden Gate park continue to amaze and delight visitors. Please be respectful of their space and comfort. None of these images were taken by encroaching on owls and making them uncomfortable. Many portraits show owls staring at the camera (like they might if they were alarmed), but these were just a few curious glances during what was un-manipulated natural behavior. Close-ups are made possible with a long lens, careful attention, and a bit of wonderful luck. I’m glad to be able to share such a thrilling set of encounters.
*Bonus Behaviour: This young owl started grasping and plucking the nearby tree branch. Confusion? Vegetarianism? Actually I think it was just getting in little practice at plucking prey. I never actually saw it ingest leaves, just rip the branch to shreds.
The four young Great Horned Owls of Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake are on the verge of dispersing. They have been the darlings of bird watchers and photographers for the last few months. Now capable of catching their own rats (the squirrels seem too elusive for the moment), they are becoming competition for their parents and will eventually leave or be escorted from the area. I haven’t been out to see them much this season but I did spend an evening with them last week.
Owls often look fierce but this one just looks frustrated. I’m guessing this isn’t the first time it has been tormented by the squirrels.
Stretching in the early evening light, the owls prepare for nightfall.
This youngster stays tucked in the longest. Perhaps it had a mid-day meal and is in less of a hurry to hunt. Below, one of its sibling has other ideas.
Success! An almost casual hop into the grass produced a large rat. After making quick work of its meal, the owl settled in for a rest (below).
The squirrels were pressing their luck and tried to sneak down the trunk past the resting owls. The result was this lunging dive straight down the trunk in an attempt to pluck the squirrel off the tree. You can see it escaping down the right side of the trunk.
Having missed its target, the owl pulls out of its dive and, while I’m not one to anthropomorphize, I sense frustration.
This is the same evasive little squirrel. As comfortable with people as with owls I guess.
It really is wonderful to get the chance to see them at close range. There is something to be said for urban birding. The close quarters brings its own challenges but also creates a familiarity/comfort that is hard to find among birds in far flung wilder places. I guess this reverts once you get so far away that lack of exposure brings a comfort aided by ignorance (i.e. the Dodo).
In the dying light I managed this shot of one of the owls rejoining its siblings. They were now very active and calling from all over the hillside but with no light and a long commute I called it a night.
Bonus Bird: Things often happen when you are waiting for birds to do something interesting. This little Downy Woodpecker landed about four feet from me while I was watching a motionless owl. It flitted about for two minutes softly tapping the branch and then jumped into a cavity to roost for the night. While this was going on, the motionless owl executed a beautiful full-body wing stretch that I could only watch from the corner of my eye, my camera settings having been changed to accommodate the woodpecker. A lesson learned…
A Red-shouldered Hawk goes fishing! The first photographic documentation of this behaviour.
A friend and I went to Stow Lake to see if we could get a glimpse of the normally cooperative owls on Strawberry Hill. The fledglings have grown old enough to disperse and the parents were making themselves scarce so we struck out on Golden Gate Park owls. But much of bird watching is about what you see when you are waiting around for other things to happen, and last night was no exception. We had been tracking a female Redtail who was sitting near what we think is an active nest. The male arrived with a recently caught squirrel and she set off in pursuit to relieve him of his meal. He managed to escape long enough to perch and spend about 10 minutes dining on a nicely exposed branch. Once the female made up her mind, she stopped making her persistent yet quiet begging calls, and launched off her perch, diving toward the male with great intent. He fell over backwards trying to escape his larger and stronger partner and she took over what was left of the squirrel. Above, she relocates with her prize. The squirrel may be hard to recognize because it has been, err… rearranged.
Spring seems to be the time for seeing Great Horned Owls in and around the city. Tennessee Valley has always been a reliable place to spot them. I had walked to the beach and back with no luck last week when this owl finally appeared just as I was getting back to my car.