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.
I was wandering on the edge of a marsh by the San Pablo Bay just north
of the Richmond Bridge, an area I’ve been exploring a lot lately.
As I moved across a transition of pampas grass into more open
grassland area prior to the pickleweed marsh, I flushed a red-shoulder
hawk from the ground. As it flew away, I didn’t see anything in its
talons. Intrigued, I wandered off the trail to see if I could figure
out what it was doing. Lo and behold, I found a dead duck! Female
mallard, to be specific, and she was lying inches from her nest
underneath a blackberry bush. The nest was beautiful, and it contained
I was a little shocked – I have seen red-shoulders get all sorts of
prey including voles/mice, snakes, robins and other birds – but I
would not have suspected it would/could take a full grown duck.
Granted, she was comprimised being on the ground and on her nest, but
it’s still impressive.
I feel confident the rsha made the kill. The kill was very fresh, and
almost the entire neck of the duck was plucked and eaten. The breast
and the eggs were untouched. You can see the circle pattern of plucked
feathers around the kill, indicative of a bird predator.
I returned to the site later in the day, about four hours later. The
carcass was untouched since I had been there except for yellow
As a sidenote, I learned that ducks are difficult to foster – I tried
to find someone who was willing to take the eggs to try to incubate
them to no avail.
(though I did crack one open, it was still mostlly yolk – I suspect
they had been laid very recently and perhaps she had just started
I probably could have eaten the eggs (and the duck breast, for that matter!) – but I decided to leave them for the other creatures of the swamp that night. Sure enough upon my return a few days later, there were just feathers and a few bones left.
First off, let me say that I don’t count myself as a “birder” – not in the commonly understood definition of it, anyway. I’m not into checking boxes by a species and keeping track of my life bird count. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why people do it, and I’m happy they enjoy it. It’s just not me (so don’t call me a birder).
But I do love birds, and find myself drawn to them in particular among all my relations in the plant and animal world. For me, it is the interaction, the connection, with these other lifeforms that is the real juiciness. That is what drives my passion to be out in nature – genuine connection. Often that takes the form of simply witnessing … which in and of itself is extremely rewarding. Sometimes it’s not even seeing the animal, just its track & sign. But occasionally there’s an actual interaction, and when it happens – on the animal’s terms – it is magical. Sometimes too, it’s the story that accompanies a sighting that makes it memorable. It’s always about the story though, isn’t it?
So the appearance of a black hawk in Sonoma County – while certainly alluring to birders who get to check another box on their list – is of more interest than just that. It is also a unique love story.
Not only has a black hawk (normally native to texas, arizona, new mexico and points south) chosen to make its home here, it has taken a mate of another species (no, it’s not me) – a red-shoulder hawk!
I started watching the nest about a month ago after being notified of its whereabouts by some friends at West County Hawk Watch. It is located in a tall eucalyptus tree, and not easily viewed due to a lot of other trees around it (and private property). My first day there, they were brooding and I got to see two nest exchanges. Initially the black hawk was on the nest, then after a bit of time she started to make some vocalizations that reminded me of a kestrel. A few moments later, a red-shouldered hawk appeared in the air and flew to the nest, taking over incubation duties for enough time for the black hawk to stretch and do a little bit of preening. Then she was back on the nest – but not until she grabbed another few branches to add to it …
I’ve returned to the nest a number of times since, most recently on Sunday. It was a very hot day with temperatures in the upper 90’s (f), and when I arrived the black hawk was in the nest panting (black feathers are an interesting feature on a bird that typically lives in the hot dry desert?!). Once I set up a scope, my eye was treated to what I had been hoping to see – a fuzzy white head! There is at least one baby!
I had heard that this same couple, the black hawk and the red-shouldered hawk, had young last year. I felt lucky to get to see it with my own eyes. What will this little creature grow up to look like? Time will tell, and I hope to have updates soon as the little one grows and starts to get its first set of feathers.
I never saw the red-shoulder on Sunday, likely because I was there during the hottest part of the day when there is little animal activity (they are smarter than me, evidently). The pictures were digi-scoped, so they aren’t the best quality, but it allowed me to capture this exciting occasion.
Thanks to Larry Broderick and Yvonne Motherwell for sharing the location of the nest and supporting efforts to document and spend time witnessing these amazing animals.