Photo Courtesy of Cheryl Dykstra

Urban Raptors: More Notes from the Field

Field notes by Cheryl Dykstra, co-editor of Urban Raptors: Ecology and Conservation of Birds of Prey in Cities
Thursday, May 17, 2018
Cincinnati, Ohio

Our first nest of the day is a little farther out from town than most, and on a large lot next to an equestrian training center. To us, the immediate habitat looks more suitable for a red-tailed hawk than a red-shouldered hawk, but we’re not hawks, and we’ve often been surprised by the adaptability of the red-shoulders. In Cincinnati, they’ve nested on rooftops and once on a gas grill on an elevated deck, just three feet from a kitchen window.We set up the owl decoy, surrounded by the mist net and the dho gaza, a net that collapses when a hawk hits it and gently drops the tangled hawk to the ground.
We’ve been using the dho gaza with good success in the last couple days. We barely have time to retreat to our vehicle to watch before a hawk slams into the dho gaza. We race up to the net, but something has gone wrong and the hawk is able to slip out of the net just as we get there. Frustrated by this, we see that the net has been dragged over the owl decoy, leaving room for the hawk to ease out the side of the net. We re-set the nets and retreat again. It takes a few minutes, but finally the second hawk appears and barrels into the net. We run out again and are successful this time. We’ve caught the male. Ania and Madison remove him from the net

 

They band and measure him.
They collect a small blood sample.

 

Then, he is released. The bird that escaped earlier is unwilling to engage again today, so we take down the nets. We’ll wait a week or so before trying again.

 

I climb the nest tree, a small sycamore with a low nest less than 30 feet off the ground.
I remove the three nestlings from the nest and place them in a bag to be lowered to the ground to Ania and Madison.

 

As Madison practices banding and measuring the feet and the secondaries, I relax on a comfortable branch and examine the nest while I wait. It contains something I’ve never seen before in a nest, many strands of long black hair, which I guess must be from horses’ tails. The nest also has a lot of green sprigs of several tree species: red cedar, white pine, spruce, red oak, red maple, silver maple, and a non-native I don’t immediately recognize. Red-shoulders and many raptor species line their nests with “greenery” like this; some species may serve as natural insect deterrents and help protect the young from parasites.
Ania and Madison finish with the nestlings, and I place them gently back in their nest and rappel down.

 

The next nest is in a beautiful big oak, less than 20 feet from the homeowner’s garage door, and about the same distance from the neighbor’s house. My daughter Madeline joins us, having just finished her last exam. Madeline, 17, has been helping me with hawk research since she was very young and is excited to be allowed to do her first solo climb to a nest.

 

This tree is perfect for the double-rope climbing technique she knows, and she uses a foot-ascender to quickly make her way up the rope, right to the nest.

 

Ania and Madison set up the banding supplies, band the young and take their blood samples.

 

These three are about 3.5 weeks old.

 

We return the nestlings to Madeline, and she re-settles them into their nest, and descends the rope. She’s thrilled with her success. One of the advantages of the urban study area is the easy availability of snacks, so we break for ice cream and wait out a short rainshower.

 

The next nest is about 40 feet high in a white pine in a wooded sideyard. White pine are not native here, but are widely planted, and red-shoulders have nested in this one for many years running. Madeline has climbed this pine with me while training in past years, and is eager to go up solo. As she ascends the rope, we study the young with binoculars.
They are older than we thought, probably nearing five weeks old. Madeline gets to the nest, and begins quietly working her way around the nest, keeping her head down below the edge to avoid startling the young into fledging prematurely. We see her carefully retrieve two of them on the south side of the nest, then move to the north side and gently grab the other two. Smiling broadly, she lowers them to the ground.  We band and measure the young, and collect the blood samples, working quickly because the sky is looking threatening again. We send the brood back to Madeline and she replaces them in their nest, and descends the rope. Everyone, including the lawn-service crew that stopped to watch our work, tells her she did a great job. She is exhilarated and proud (and so is her mom).
Rain starts again, with thunder in the distance, so we pack up our gear and head home. We’ve banded and sampled 11 birds today—a great day.