A hawk cries. While this is not unusual in our neighborhood, the cries of hawks this summer have been nearly continuous. The cry I hear as I arrive home from work comes from a hawk that soars high above the houses of the neighborhood. Although Red-tailed Hawks commonly come to the neighborhood and yesterday high above three Northern Harriers soared in a tight cluster, the hawk I hear this evening is one of the neighborhood’s Swainson’s Hawks.
Two years ago Swainson’s Hawks nested in a spruce about 50 yards behind our house, and they are in the same tree with a new nest this year. I assume it’s the same family of Swainson’s Hawk, although it may not be. The new nest is at the same level—about 60 feet above ground—as the old one. The old nest, built on the west side of the tree, was blocked from my view by the tree’s trunk, but the new nest is on the east side of the tree, offering me a view.
I take tea and my binoculars to the deck to check the hawk nest. The large, mother hawk stands on a branch behind the nest. She looks shadowy, even in the warming evening light—both parents are dark morphs.
The downy, white heads of the two young hawks bob in the nest. The larger of the two, which is the size of a chicken, stands and arches his wings. I call the larger of the two toddler hawks Pozzo and his smaller, meeker brother is named Lucky.
The mother hawk calls, ruffles her wings, and then preens, pulling at her chest and wing feathers. Suddenly, she launches from the nest—flying behind thick-topped maples to the south. I hear her call again, and there is a response from her partner. Both parents shoot from behind the maple to land at the nest, where they are a dark confusion of feather and wing until, only moments later, in a broad flap of wings the smaller father hawk flies away.
The mother hawk stands just behind the nest, where she rips with her beak prey that the male brought. The two young, seated in the nest, extend their necks to their mother. She pulls quickly at the food and stretches to the young, one and then the other, who take the food from her beak. The father hawk soars around the neighborhood above the nest.
In the early morning light, I lie in bed listening to the cry of the young hawks; then a house wren begins to sing. I get up to look for the birds. The wren sings from the very top of spruce. It sits with its back to the morning sun. The hawk nest quiets. Both young are nested, and the mother hawk stands guard on a branch.
A few minutes later the mother flies low behind the maples to a row of tall shrubs between the Lutheran parsonage and the Mormon church. The shrubs are the abode of crows. The crows go crazy. The hawk screams at the badgering crows and flies back to the nest, where she stands for only a moment before leaving again, flying up and around to soar over the neighborhood.
Sometime later, the mother hawk flies low and fast across our backyards with prey in her talons. At the nest, the mother hawk rips the food apart and gives it to Pozzo while Lucky continues to lie in the nest.
In the afternoon, the crows are again after one of the parent hawks. All are overhead—silhouetted by the sun. The crows tail the hawk, which screams when one or the other crow accelerates at the hawk. The hawk flaps its wings at the attack; it turns sharply, stalls, twists, and flaps again to evade the crows. The attacks continue until the hawk beats hard and fast its wings and wheels upward gaining quickly crow-less sky to soar high above the neighborhood. I watch the hawk wind downward until it perches in the sky, holding its position, body arched to hover, over the Lutheran church.
Early in the morning, the mother hawk feeds the toddling Pozzo and Lucky. The two young stand outside of the nest close to the mother, who is ripping pieces of food from prey. Lucky, the smaller of the two young hawks, takes food from the mother’s beak. Larger Pozzo pecks and rips at the prey on his own. Each young hawk bobs backward his head as he swallows.
Although the mother hawk has been at the nest, standing on a branch beside it, except when she has gone to forage or meet her arriving mate, she has been at the nest only intermittently today. I see her or the father or both soar throughout the day above the neighborhood. The young cry—krie-ew, krie-ew, krie-ew. Periodically, I hear one of the parents—as if to say, ‘I’m here—don’t worry’—call from flight, and I wonder whether the parents remain within listening distance of the toddlers (or whether they fly to escape the cries).
In the evening, both Pozzo and Lucky are outside of the nest. Although Pozzo commonly moves around the branches close to the nest, Lucky is usually in the nest and is often lying down. Tonight Pozzo sits on the west side of the trunk, where the parents stand at feeding to rip apart food. Lucky lies against the trunk on the east side. Pozzo stands periodically to stretch and rumple his wings. The parents continue to soar above the neighborhood moving swiftly from western to eastern sky—their wings are steady, never beating. I hear now, and have intermittently, through the evening, a distant ‘krie-ew’ called from one of the parents.
This is the first day that I do not see the mother hawk sit at the nest site. She comes only to feed Pozzo and Lucky, and then returns to flight. Both parents continue to soar within sight of the nest throughout the day.
Song birds sing and a dog barks. I can hear traffic—the earliest workers of the day are out. This early morning both mother and father hawk are screaming. The father sits at the nest, but the mother is in the sky to the west, where two crows chase her. She wheels swiftly and zips to the nest, and the crows are lost. Only for the briefest moment are the two parents at the nest together. The mother has hardly landed before the father leaps to wing and flies away. The mother hawk begins to tear at food held at her feet. Both Pozzo and Lucky are standing outside of the nest and both peck and rip at the prey.
About 6.00 am I take a cup of tea out to the deck. The mother hawk stands in the morning sun on the south branch beside the nest. She is still and her wings, held just slightly out from her body, appear like a cloak. She looks like Rodin’s statue of the brooding Balzac.
Several minutes later, a lump rises in the nest. The back of one young bird comes up, and then the youth stands. It arches its wings and takes a couple of unsteady steps. The young bird looks at me—his downy head is still mostly white but has peppery speckles. He begins to preen—using his beak to pull at chest and wings feathers. The young bird steps around the nest and cries. He spreads again his dark, but white-spotted, wings.
By the time I finish my tea I still have not seen the second young hawk. I worry about an accident—perhaps one of the young hawks has fallen from the nest or been taken by a crow or another raptor. The preening young bird continues to walk around the periphery of the nest and then steps into it, where it stumbles slightly—and suddenly the second young hawk stands. It is Lucky, who has been has been stepped-on by Pozzo. Both of the young hawks now stand in the nest. Pozzo picks about the nest for food. Lucky stretches his wings and lies down again. The mother hawk, seemingly oblivious to the antics, still stands statuesque in the sun at the side of the nest.
We have been gone for a week, and I wonder whether the young hawks will have flown away in our absence, but, when I check, they are still at the nest. Pozzo stands on a branch beside the nest and preens. As usual, Lucky sits in the nest, his back is shadowed and his head looks like a knob. Lucky turns to face me and cries. Krie-ew . . . krie-ew . . . krie-ew. I can see the pink of his cheeks.
Pozzo is now nearly as large as his father, and Lucky is only a little smaller. They have lost the down from their heads, which are now smooth and brown, although they still have a little white at their cheeks and eyes. Their bodies are a rufous brown although with a lattice of white on their backs and chests.
The mother hawk brings food to the nest and both young leap toward her. Both Pozzo and Lucky reach aggressively with head and neck to the food. Pozzo tears at the food, then turns to look at me, a ribbon of prey entrails hangs from his beak, and his head bobs back as he slurps the food into his mouth.
After the feeding, the mother hawk flies across the street to sit at the top of a spruce. A pair of crows dive at her—one after the other—swooping up and curving down to sweep at the hawk’s head, but missing it by several feet. The mother hawk dips her head at the dives of the crows until finally they give up. The hawk remains in the tree and watches, turning her head from side to side.
This is the first day that they have not been continuously within view of the nest (at least as far as I can see). I see the parents when they come to feed and periodically one will be soaring overhead, but they seem to be distancing themselves from the nest.
Pozzo stands this afternoon halfway out a branch on the north side of the nest. He begins to flap his wings—they are not fully extended, but nearly so—and I sense the power in his strokes. He leaps up and gently, but quickly, flaps his wings twice and lands on the west branch close to Lucky, who stands in a shadow beside the tree’s trunk. Pozzo next hops to the south branch with a shake of his wings. Here he sits and preens for a few minutes until he hops back to the feeding spot on the west side of the trunk, where he picks at spots of food and tilts his head back as he swallows. Pozzo hops again to the south branch, a spot where his mother has often stood to guard the nest as the young hawks were growing, and spreads his wings—holding them stiffly out in the sun. Krie-ew . . . krie-ew . . . krie-ew, he calls. I watch his beak open with each call and feel that I can nearly see the sharp sound of his cries. Restless Pozzo finally stills and stands motionless to stare at me.
When the mother hawk brings food, Pozzo tumbles over Lucky, and the mother flees. Lucky disappears in Pozzo’s wings—I fear he has been speared by a talon. The young hawks wrestle and roil like teenagers until, finally, Pozzo takes the food, leaving Lucky to sit.
Pozzo is ‘flying’ this evening from branch to branch around the nest. He flaps and lifts off from the north branch to land on the west branch. From the west branch he flies to the south branch. From the south branch he returns to the west. From the west branch he flies to the south, where he stands and screams. Lucky stands beside the tree trunk. Lucky has been about two days behind Pozzo in his development, but he generally has been less aggressive—spending much of his time lying in the nest or sitting by the tree trunk. [He’s the sort of kid who will probably read novels instead of playing sports.]
I leave today for another trip, but I check the hawk nest before I go. Both of the young hawks lie in the nest, and I can see only their shadowed backs. It is a scene much like that two weeks ago when the young hawks were just becoming active and large enough to see.