These Red-shouldered Hawks continue to be year round residents of Hildacy Farm Preserve. If the pair builds a nest again this spring it will be (at least) the fifth consecutive year that they have done so. While each nest has been in a different location, the meadows and wetlands of Hildacy have consistently been their hunting grounds, supplying them with the quantity of food required to feed not only themselves but a clutch of 2-5 young birds.
I have been compiling some footage that I haven’t had a chance to post and well, here it is.
This video shows a male Red-Bellied Woodpecker excavating a nest cavity in a tree. I took this one through my trusty spotting scope way back in February. Woodpeckers tend to be some of the earliest breeders in the area but this was a bit early even for them. The pair ended up abandoning the hole after a solid week of digging.
Hildacy’s resident pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks have nested again and successfully fledged 3 more young birds this year. I have been watching the same pair for the last 3 years and during that time they have nested and produced young in 3 different pine trees. Unlike many Red-Shouldered Hawks, they have not migrated south in the winters. The vast majority of hawks seen in this area are Red-Tailed Hawks and it continues to be a treat to have this species present on the preserve.
Here are a few videos from their new nest. The young birds are now big enough to explore nearby branches although I have not yet seen them fly.
Here one of the young birds can be seen stretching his wings and hoping around the nest:
Even after young raptors have learned to fly it will be some time until they are proficient hunters. During this period the adult birds will continue to bring the youngsters food. In this video one of the adults has just returned to the nest with something in its talons. You can recognize the adult because of the more rusty colored breast feathers (the young are more white with brown spots). Once the adult arrives at the nest the 3 young converge on the meal and fight each other for nutrition.
Here are a few more pics of the young birds. You can see the spotted chest feathers I was talking about. Even though the birds are not yet mature they are likely already the same size as their parents.
While southeastern PA is dominated by Red-tailed Hawks, it is a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks that have made the Hildacy Farm Preserve their territory. Last year, this pair nested in a pine tree just off the southern edge of the preserve. There the pair successfully fledged two young hawks.
The adult hawks remained at Hildacy throughout the year. Many Red-shouldered Hawks migrate south in the fall, but apparently this pair was able to continue to find enough food to sustain them through the cold months. When spring arrived, the pair constructed a new nest less than a hundred yards from the Hildacy office building. During the construction of the nest, both birds were often seen and heard flying over the office and defending their territory. (In my last blog, I included a video in which you can hear one of these hawks as it swoops in to attack an owl).
The new nest was completed in late March and, based on a change in the hawks’ behavior (the hawks became less vocal and more secretive), I expect that eggs were laid in the first week of April. The pair took turns incubating the eggs and tried to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. The incubation period for Red-shouldered Hawks lasts approximately 25 days. In the first week of May a few fragments of egg shells were found on the walkway to the office. I identified these pieces as Red-shouldered eggs and believe they were cast out of the nest as the young birds hatched.
This past week, three young birds have become visible in the nest. I imagine that they are now three or four weeks old; brown flight feathers have started to replace some of their white down. They’ll remain in the nest for five to six weeks, after which time they will be the same size as the adults and ready to go hunt for themselves.
Here are some videos taken through a spotting scope of the young. The second video shows them being fed by one of the adult birds.