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!
Quite a site, quite a sight! A day to remember.
Rites of passage, flights to come. Big day. Big sky. Many thanks.
This is a California Condor chick, almost ready to fledge, at a cliff near Big Sur in the Ventana Wilderness, part of Los Padres National Forest. An incredibly endangered bird, there are less than 500 in the world (of which only about 240 are free-flying and wild, with only about 70 in this area of California) – brought back from a population of just 22 remaining in 1987! Thanks to the incredible dedication and cooperation of many groups, these birds have a second chance.
The California Condor adult has a wingspan of almost 10 feet! They have the longest wingspan of any bird in North America, and there are only a few types of birds that weigh more (two types of swans). These birds live 60 years in the wild, and they are very social birds – the young take many months to leave the nest, and once they do they stay around to learn “condor life” from their parents and community for quite a while.
One flying above leaves me breathless, making it easier to hear the sound of the wind flowing through its feathers as it soars close over my head. It doesn’t seem possible that a bird this size can fly, until it leaps off a perch into the sky above the sea cliffs and extends those giant wings. THOSE WINGS! Seeing one flying above the redwood trees and this steep, rugged wilderness, I am instantly transported to another time, a time when things were much bigger and time moved a little bit slower. We could all use a little of that medicine.
These birds are still desperately in need of assistance to survive in the wild, the biggest risks being suitable habitat and having food that isn’t contaminated with lead bullets. Lead poisoning is one of the biggest risks to these birds’ survival, since they feed only on prey that is dead. Hunters and ranchers using non-lead bullets is a huge help, not just to these birds who are scavengers, but to all the scavengers including bears, foxes, coyotes, golden eagles, turkey vultures, bald eagles, jays, mice, and more. Keeping lead and all types of poisons out of the food chain is key to a healthy ecosystem. There are many incredible non-poison predator deterrent systems being developed that are incredibly effective and have minimal impact on the food chain. Check out Project Coyote for more great information about non-lethal predator control – and there are many other resources as well (contact me for more).
To help with the effort to restore condors to the skies, with a donation or just to see some really cool webcams and pictures, check out the Ventana Wildlife Society’s webpage and blog!
Thank you Condors and the rugged Ventana Wilderness for reminding me of what is true.
some just-fledged crows have been hanging around my backyard lately
There is nothing quite like seeing young animals play, and it has been such a treat on my sunset/twilight wanders lately to see a pair of fledgling red-tailed hawks in Wildcat Canyon cavorting in the strong winds up in the hills for the past week or two. They are still sometimes unsteady as they soar in the air, and during their landings – wheeling awkwardly in the winds, or alternating repeatedly landing and taking off from a hilltop trying to ride fast moving gusts, like a feathered, bouncing ball. Sometimes their parents were silhouetted in the background above them, unmoving in the strong winds as if hanging from an invisible thread in the sky as they hunted. For the first week or so, every time the two young ones were in the air, they were loudly vocalizing non-stop, as if shouting “holy shit I’m flying, holy shit I’m flying!!!” That’s how it felt, watching their exuberance in the sky.
Despite their awkwardness at times, there were other times that they seemed to be quickly mastering flight in the high winds – chasing each other over the hills and around tree tops, stooping and diving on one another, locking talons in the sky, and pushing each other off of perches – even “barrel rolling” in the sky like ravens often due (an acrobatic maneuver during which they flip over on their back for a few moments in the sky). Sometimes I forget that I’m without any wings as I watch them, feeling like at any moment I could jump up and join them. It looks like just about as much fun as any living thing can have.
Hopefully this pair will survive longer than last year’s young – there were three from what were likely this same pair of adults, and none of them survived more than two weeks after fledging. Once night comes, it is the domain of the great-horned owls … and there are a lot of them here. It’s encouraging that they’ve lasted this long, soar on young ones!
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.
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.