Sunday, April 14, 2013

Meet Stitch the Red-tailed Hawk

Eaglecrest begins hatch watch for Red-tailed Hawk 'Stitch' and her eggs on April 17th. Stitch is a buteo, a genus of birds of prey noted for broad wings, sturdy builds, and soaring flights. Her eggs are estimated to begin hatching on April 19th. To watch Stitch, visit Eaglecrest's Ustream site:

Once her eggs hatch, Stitch will provide most of the brooding while mate Spot provides the family with food. Red-tailed hawks eat a wide variety of live prey, including mice, gophers, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, shrews, bats, quail, corvid birds, reptiles, and even insects and earthworms. Although Red-tailed hawks have been observed eating carrion, they prefer live prey.

Life in the nest will follow a familiar pattern for altricial birds. When the nestlings are small, Mom Stitch will spend a lot of time brooding and tearing food for them. As they become able to thermoregulate, the young hawks will be less interested in brooding and more interested in exploring the nest. Developmental stages include standing, food tearing, playing and interaction, and wingercizing.  The young hawks will fledge beginning at roughly 42 days of age. They will begin to catch their own prey six to seven weeks after fledging and will become independent of their parents at about four months of age. Since Red-tailed hawks tend to return to breed in the area they were born or hatched, it is likely that Spot and Stitch's progeny will settle nearby. Spot and Stitch's linage may have occupied Eaglecrest for a very long time. Although they weren't modern Red-tailed hawks, the fossil record shows that Accipitrine hawks had evolved by the beginning of the Pleistocene epoch. Some of those fossils were found at the La Brea tar pits, roughly 250 miles away from Eaglecrest.

We might enjoy watching Red-tailed hawks now, but for much of the past century, they were a maligned bird. In 1932, Dr. Thomas S. Roberts wrote:

"Thirty-four of the forty-eight states have laws that variously discriminate between the beneficial and supposedly harmful species of Hawks and Owls and make provision for the former group. Potection, however, was removed from all species in 1925...Since that time, a general and wholesale slaughter of these birds has been going on...Both Hawks and Owls are so greatly reduced in numbers as nesting birds that they have become somewhat of a rarity."

As has been noted elsewhere, the Red-tailed hawk made a spectacular comeback from the dark days of bounty hunting and shoot on sight. Now protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the bird is a very common sight along open fields and roads, where it hunts for small rodents. The Red-tailed hawk comes in a variety of sizes and plumage colors and patterns, but all adult Red-tailed hawks are easily identifiable by their bright red tails, which molts out in the hawk's second year of life.

What's happening in the eggs right now? Probably something like this:

RTH eggs are lightly-speckled to whitish ovals. Take a look at this video for a peek at the eggs, which can be seen at 8:29 into the video:

We are looking forward to hatch!

Things that helped me learn and write about this topic:

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