It has been a rough start for a nesting pair of falcons in Oakland. Or rather, one of the brood. This particular nest has two young, and they fledged on Thursday and Friday. Unfortunately, one of them ended up down on a roadway in traffic on Friday evening, right as I arrived to watch them. Of course I took off running, hopped a fence and ran to the road to attempt a rescue.
When I got to it, the fledge was hunkered down in the middle of one of four lanes of traffic. I managed to stop traffic, but not before a woman ran directly over the bird (without any wheels crushing it). In fairness, it is Oakland, and I probably looked like a crazy person because I had already taken off my t-shirt to grab the bird as I tried to stop traffic. Still pretty lame though.
I scooped the little guy (it was originally ID’d as a female, but it seems really small to be female, so I’m calling it a he for now). He had sustained damage on his lowere mandible, but otherwise seemed to be intact. I’m not sure if the damage occured due to a vehicle strike, or if he hit his beak on his way down to the roadway. The damage was severe enough that it warranted an exam by a professional. These new fledges are not great fliers, but they are even worse at landings. After the initial shock wore off, he was very fiesty and not happy about being put into a box – which is a good sign. A friend who is part of the falcon fledge watch took him to a wildlife rehab facility for assessment. His status is still questionable, but we are hoping that he can be released again into the wild. It could go any way at this point, but I am hopeful.
What is interesting are the circumstances of his crash landing. He had taken off on a practice flight, and it appeared that the adults actually were chasing him as if he were an intruder. It happened very fast, but initially we thought we were seeing the adults chase off an intruder, then we quickly realized it was the youngster. Each time he tried to land on a high perch, an adult swooped on him and he took back to the air until he finally tired out and went down on the road.
Maybe his parents were disciplining him like the Japanese parents who left their son in the woods recently. A bit overkill, ya think – tone it down a bit maybe? It was certainly an unusual event, and our assessment is purely conjecture. There is speculation that this pair of falcons is very young, so perhaps they just haven’t figured out the whole parenting thing just yet.
Another friend of mine saw and got a picture at another falcon nest recently of one of the adults actually helping a new fledge land!! The adult flew beside and slightly behind the younster, and actually assisted it up to a perch! Perhaps the parents at this nest were trying to help, but their efforts actually made the situation worse. Hard to say at this point.
Here are a few pics of the remaining family from the past few days.
In addition to being a smaller bird, the tiercel (term for a male falcon) happens to have much lighter plumage on his chest and belly, which helps when trying to tell them apart if they aren’t next to each other to know by size (female is bigger). The female has some strong barring on her entire underside and a bit of a buffy tone, whereas the male has a lot of white and the barring only extends partially down under his wings, not across the whole belly and chest.
The injured bird is incredibly beautiful, as I was walking back with him in my hands, he was looking up at me with giant, shining, dark, dark brown eyes. Pure Wild looking up at me. I’ll never forget those eyes. Hopefully he gets to take to the sky again soon!
A few weekends ago I was trailing a bobcat around a lagoon at Point Reyes National Seashore, when suddenly I realized we were being watched. I looked up and scanned the sandy dunes, and almost immediately my eyes locked in on it. A peregrine falcon. Sitting on one of the highest dunes that surrounds the lagoon, watching us.
It allowed us to get pretty close as we followed the bobcats trail, then finally flew off across the lagoon with powerful wing beats. I was hoping to find some good tracks, but upon inspecting the dune there were none in the loose sand. What I did find however, was what appeared to be a regular dining spot for this bird. Strewn all across the dune were bones, feathers, and regurgitated pellets.
The pellets were very light, composed mostly of tiny, downy, under-feathers of what likely once belonged to some type of shore bird species. Compared to the pellets of most mammal-eating bird species, they contained virtually no bones.
Exciting day at Hawk Hill today by the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the great spots for seeing large numbers of migrating raptors. The Accipiters are coming through in high volume right now, and I was able to get out for a bit to watch. The fog started to roll in just as I got there, but we still had a good number of birds coming through (and visible, despite the low fog bank).
In addition to many sharp-shinned hawks and a few cooper’s hawks, we were treated to a few peregrine falcons that flew by. But not only did the juvenile peregrine fly by – it stayed a while to perform some antagonizing aerials on resident ravens, migrating sharp-shinned hawks, and one lone harrier! It’s hard to tell if it was hunting, just playing, or something in between. The ravens seemed to be having fun playing with it. The small sharpies … definitely not so much!
During this past two weeks I’ve had the fortune to see a lot of local raptor young and fledglings – peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, white-tailed kites, osprey, and even one black hawk / red-shoulder hybrid. I’ll have more detailed blog posts and the stories about each of these soon, but for now here are a few pictures.
The winds surged onto the coast
like a flood of oncoming water;
And seemed to convince even the water below
that on this evening,
they could together move the giant rocks around which they are usually forced to flow.
But as the wind and the water
danced with the rocks in their daily ritual,
debating who is mightier;
The falcons flew above and through it all.
I had nearly given up on seeing the falcon fledge(s) from this nest, located on the side of the sea cliffs – instead I was ready to yield to the winds that seemed determined to drive people and most living things to seek shelter elsewhere. I watched as cormorants and gulls flapped their wings so hard and fast, only to barely make headway in the gale. Instead of leaving though, I took refuge behind a lupine bush that afforded slight shelter from its relentless surge. The rock face that rose in front of me was glowing in a yellow light that made all the colors of the coastal plants seem to glow, with hints of orange starting to invade the palette before me, foreshadowing the oncoming setting of the sun. I was astounded how the small plants that made a home in the crags on the face of the rock barely moved in the 40 mph winds, and was a bit disappointed not to see the familiar form of a falcon hiding somewhere in the midst of it all.
My eyes shut for a few moments after an already long day, and when they opened I immediately saw that familiar form on the very top of the rock – a peregrine!
It seemed to look at me for a few seconds, then it jumped off its perch and floated into the air, a few quick flaps of its wings propelling it with speed right into the strong winds.
Soon it broke its relatively even glide with some quick dives at a few small birds in the chaparral – exuberant, youthful frolicking – and a bit ungraceful! It was happy to be alive and happy to be a falcon. Flying! It was definitely a newly fledged bird, and I was happy to see it had survived this long. Moments later it had disappeared.
I soon gave up my plan to watch the sunset over the waters, as the wind now was my only companion now and it seemed intent on its solitude.
On a whim, or an intuition (or an invitation?), I decided to drive a little further into the park instead of starting my journey “home” (though wasn’t I already home?). As I crested a hill, and the Pacific Ocean once again dominated my view to the west, the sun seemed to renew its invitation to watch its daily finale. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, two small darting forms caught my attention in the sky above the tallest hill over the cliffs of the sea …
There were two falcons playing in the updrafts of wind on the large hill side – chasing each other, diving at one another, flipping upside down to grasp talons – an aerial game of tag! I immediately pulled over, jumped out of my vehicle and ran to join them, shouting out loud into the wind and forgetting for a moment that I couldn’t leave the ground to join them.
In my previous trips to check out the nest, I had only confirmed one baby, but apparently there were at least two that survived. And now these recently fledged falcons were testing and honing their flight skills with each other in the sky above me. So amazing to witness, so fun!
I had no choice but to accept all the invitation before me, so I settled in on a deer path that cut across the slope of the hill facing towards the setting sun. The falcons continued to come back above me a number of times, and at one point when one of the two disappeared, the other left its hover in the wind and banked in my direction, and I could feel its eyes on me! I got a fly-by! They are inquisitive creatures, and especially at this time in their lives they are investigating everything. Or maybe it could tell I would have like to join them up there.
There are few things that are as fun to see (or be a part of) as young animals or kids playing, and I felt really grateful to have gotten to see this short moment of time, when these birds don’t have a care in the world and are just bursting with life and joy and excitement about being alive. Inspiring, and a reminder that we still have that in each of us if we can just take a bit of time to reconnect with it.
so many babies right now! in addition to the exciting black hawk / red-shoulder nest and eyas (in my last post), i’ve gotten to see some other fun sites.
the three eyasses at the fruitvale bridge have successfully fledged and are learning to fly. when i was there last week, they were still unsteady in their flight, and one was doing a lot of “practice flapping” while gripping tightly onto the bridge span. so fun to watch. he took a little time to stare down at the strange two-legged staring up at him. when the adult female showed up (empty taloned), one of the young kept harassing her and pushing her off her perch. they are a hungry lot!
i stumbled on a nest that i hadn’t ever seen before, after hearing the young begging for dinner. this red-tailed hawks nest near wildcat canyon should be vacant very soon – these young are looking ready to go. i saw their parents hunting until well after dark trying to keep their bellies full, not an easy job!
i’m still hopeful that i’ll get to see some young harriers soon, for surely the behavior of the the pair (pictured in some previous posts) in the marsh by the bay indicates they are around.
On this beautiful Spring-like (?!) morning, I had the privilege to see my old Falcon friends on the Fruitvale Bridge in Oakland/Alameda. Just after I arrived, Hiko, the tiercel (male falcon), came in to land on the Oakland tower with breakfast – which this morning appeared to be a Eurasian collared dove. Doing his part to remove invasive species today, I guess. Unfortunately my vantage point had the sun back-lighting my photos and I was pretty far away, but it was fun to watch as he really went to work on this bird, de-feathering it as we watched. Feathers floated down like a snow storm beneath him, he was working furiously to get at that meat!
After a little while, his mate came flying in from the northwest over the waterway, and she didn’t seem to see him as she landed on the other tower. She started to e-chup (vocalize), and he let her know he was there with a few response calls. Usually this time of year, the fella would be offering meals to his mate as part of the courtship process, but he seemed intent on keeping this meal to himself at that moment. It is just the beginning of the courtship and mating process, so maybe he’s just not feeling the love quite yet.
As Hiko was finishing his meal, Tremaine took off from her perch to investigate a little more into what Hiko was doing.
Tremaine landed back on the Alameda tower, and finally Hiko seemed moved to share his breakfast with her after being discovered hoarding his food. He took off with a portion of what was left and flew to her on the other tower. Typically, the tiercel would drop-off the food for the falcon as part of the courtship process, but at the last minute he had second thoughts about sharing and he veered away! Or perhaps he was flirting, falcon style. She immediately took off after him, and within seconds had “commandeered” her portion from Hiko in mid-air over the bridge! Good stuff.
She took the small portion of the dove that he had and did a lap around the towers with it, then headed back to the Alameda tower to eat.
Hiko then did a little survey flight around the area and settled in near Tremaine on the Alameda tower to do some preening after his crop-busting breakfast.
After Tremaine finished her portion, she flew over to the Oakland tower (interestingly the OPPOSITE tower that Hiko was on – I don’t think he won any extra points with his sharing “efforts”). The two settled into a mid-day lull as they digested their food and preened, and I left them to enjoy the sunny day.
This is a shot of Tremaine when she was eating that I took with my camera phone through a friend’s scope (digiscoping, it is called). Not great quality but quite a zoom. You can see Tremaine has a full crop, she must have eaten something on her own before getting this “gift” from Hiko.
These birds are so beautiful, watching them fly, with such quickness and grace, never gets old.
happy equinox! the rains have come!!
The rains came down rather heavy today, for September – the first rains we’ve seen in months. It was wonderful. In the aftermath, the puffy cumulus clouds floated by as all life came out of their short rain hibernation.
All across the Bay area baby birds are taking flight, and many of the peregrine falcon nests in the region are already empty. Last week, the three peregrine falcon nestlings that are in a cliff side nest a few hours north of San Francisco were practicing their flapping when we stopped by. Tightly gripping the left-over sticks from the old raven nest that makes up their eyrie high on the cliff, they they pumped their wings as if ready to fly into the sun.
I always find it to be such a profound metaphor of our own developmental processes in life. In what ways are we flapping our wings but still clinging to the nest, afraid to let go and fly? To use our wings for their true purpose, to allow us to fly in whatever way is appropriate for the unique feathers that we each wear?
The winds were blowing hard, as they often do in that area by the ocean, but the fog was attending to its business far out at sea so we were treated to a rare sunset right into the waters as we sat with the birds and the thousands of small sand hoppers that had erupted to take over the tidal zone of the beach.
Saturday when I stopped by, one of them had fledged. I learned later that it was the male (based on his bands, the birds had been banded earlier to help track them – there is one male and two females). He had positioned himself on a nearby ridge to the north, but when the female brought food into the nest, he had a strong incentive to battle the high winds and make his way back. It’s an endearing sight to see the perseverance of this little being who is still trying to figure out how to work his own body, and I find myself cheering him on as he awkwardly makes the short journey in little flights and hops from one ridge to the next, then up the cliff face. It’s comical at times, because they are like toddlers learning to walk – and with the strong winds, it made the effort that much more challenging.
After a few stops and breaks, he finally made one last noble attempt, leaving the safety of the cliff side and doing a few circles in the air to gain some altitude to get into the nest for his final meal of the day. Just before he took off though, he seemed to gather himself in a dignified manner and assume a regal pose just before he leaped. Again, I was struck by the analogy to moments in our own lives, when we gather ourselves closely around that light inside us and recognize having the strength, courage, and belief in ourselves to make that leap. I was grateful to bear witness and share that moment with him.
One of the adults, it looked like the female, came into the scrape to join them for dinner as I was leaving for the evening.
It’s quite a privilege and a gift to get to witness this, and to photograph it and share it is an honor.