This Is What Can Happen When A Red-tailed Hawk Nest Is Blown Down

The shortsightedness and thoughtlessness of mankind aren’t the only threats to nesting birds. Natural events can play a role too.


I’ve been watching this Red-tailed Hawk nest on a power pole for about three months now. In this photo the mated pair was beginning the construction of the nest on March 24th of this year. Other than checking the nest out when I drive by occasionally I haven’t paid a lot of attention to it photographically because it’s so high up on a pole. While the female was incubating and the chicks were growing I just couldn’t see into it very well.



This is what that pole looked like yesterday morning – the nest was gone without even a stick of it left up there. Because of bad weather and poor light I haven’t visited it for a while but in my absence a storm system last week produced incredibly strong winds that obviously blew the nest down (they were strong enough to overturn multiple big rigs on I-80 and the freeway had to be closed for many hours).



And this is what I found nearby – two Red-tailed Hawk chicks that had obviously been blown down with the nest last week in those incredible winds. There was also a third chick perched about 5′ off the ground in a small tree (it was in bad light so I didn’t take any photos but now I wish I had).



Both parents of these young hawks were perched on adjacent power poles very close by and the chicks appeared to be thriving so it seemed pretty apparent to me that they were being fed and watched over but still I had to make a decision. Should I take them to a rehab center or leave them be? I chose the latter and drove off.

But after I left I kept wondering if I had made the right decision so after I got home I called Dalyn Erickson at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah (WRCNU – they were the rehabbers for Galileo – the Short-eared Owl we rescued off of barbed wire a year ago). After filling her in on all the details she agreed that in this case the young hawks should be left in place. She said that as long as the hawks were old enough to be mobile (they were, the third one was even partly up a tree), they looked and acted healthy (they did, absolutely) and the parents were nearby (they were – both of them) they had the best chance if they weren’t “rescued”. In her words “the parents can do a much better job than we (WRCNU) can”.

Still it was disturbing to see these chicks on the ground at this age. I wish that damned storm had waited a couple of weeks before it created such havoc.

I wish them well in a difficult situation.




40 comments to This Is What Can Happen When A Red-tailed Hawk Nest Is Blown Down

  • PacNW nature lover

    I agree, you made the best decision. And maybe this situation, if they survive it, will make heartier desendants. And I pity the fool who would cross the path of the parents, lol! We had some swallows who had the misfortune to make a nest in our carport, even though we tried hard to discourage it, right after it had been painted (we tried to get the guy to do it sooner, but delays happened). The come back every year, because the carport is an excellent place to hide from wind and predators. Well, they lost the first batch of eggs, laid a new batch, and they came out rather retarded. So, this is not as bad a situation as our poor swallows!

  • Tim

    There are no guarantees in life and sometimes one’s misfortune are another’s opportunity. Being a huge fan of Birds of Prey, its hard to see something as tough as what these young birds are dealing with right now. I hope the parents can keep them safe. But yet, a fan of other bird species might see it as a necessary evil to let “their” species of bird, or rodent survive. I teach my hawks to have faith in their skills, to hunt rabbits to feed themselves and their future kin. I’m sure rabbit lovers would hate to know that, but hawks have a much higher mortality rate, and rabbits…..well they do a bit better then most. I work with Sachi now, she is so afraid of her own shadow…..very vocal for a Red Tailed Hawk…she may never be released because of her fear of everything. But when I do release hawks, they are more confident in their natural skills and will hunt bigger prey and in safer territories then the dangerous roads we lay for them. Red Tails are not endangered, but I fear for the those lil guys on the ground…hoping they still are able to grow up confident and hunt well.

  • Chris Sanborn

    Oh so worrisome, what a tough choice to make, and as much as I would hate to see them come to any harm, I would rather their parents raised them than they go to rehab. Fingers X’d that they survive long enough to fly to safer territory, up where they belong. This stuff happens all the time, I know, we just don’t usually get to see/watch/hear about it. I understand what Melanie is saying about getting them up off the ground, but not sure that is your responsibility … that’s a tough call, for sure. Thanks, Ron, for sharing this situation with us … a reminder that life in the wild is … wild.

  • Alice Beckcom

    I did not realize that there were 80 mph winds on I-80 last week. Going forward, when I hear that kind of thing, I will always think of bird nests and the potential damage to the young chicks. I certainly hope that my optimism along with yours and that of your ‘blog readers’, pays off. I’m glad these chicks have such attentive and caring parents.

  • Laura Culley

    Yes, it IS a difficult situation, HOWEVER, the adult redtails do a far better job of raising their kiddos than humans. Just to begin, they can teach them to fly. We can’t. And that’s just the beginning.
    As I mentioned in Mia’s post, I think you guys made the right decision. They’re not THAT far from officially fledging…maybe two-ish weeks? Hopefully, Mom and Dad can keep them safe. They’re obviously continuing to feed them (NOT a surprise). And hopefully, the two younger little ones can get up off the ground soon. They’re certainly not far from the brancher stage.
    You must have had some SEVERE winds there to do that much damage. We had BIG winds here that were in the knock-me-down range. I was seriously struggling to walk.
    Wish I could keep an eye on them…from a distance, of course. And like I said to Mia, thanks for NOT disclosing their location. You two just ROCK!

    • The winds were absolutely terrible, Laura. And they lasted to some degree for a large part of a week. I’m surprised they didn’t blow the POLES down!

      • Laura Culley

        I have to admit that I was worried about the mews, but it’s so open and breezy in there and oriented to the prevailing winds that I doubted the winds could get a significant hold. But I worry.
        Please keep an eye on the little ones. Survival is ALWAYS a challenge for these birds, but this makes it a little bit harder. That said, most redtail parents are pretty darn good!

  • Sallie Reynolds

    I work with the California Raptor Center, in Davis, CA, and I think you did the exactly right thing. No guarantees – but even if the nest had been intact, there are no guarantees. It’s clear from their bulging little crops that Mom and Dad are on the job. They will also protect the chicks from predators as much as they can. And being on the ground isn’t an automatic death sentence. Plenty of places to hide.

  • Susan Stone

    I am glad that even though the chicks aren’t ready to fledge, that they are healthy and that their parents are still taking care of them. Your instincts about leaving them in places were clearly good ones. Those chicks have the best chance of survival, given that you cared enough to check on whether you should have “rescued” them. I hope they continue to thrive.

    • They have a good start on the ground, Susan. Now they just need their luck to continue (after surviving the long fall from the nest without injury).

  • Nicole

    EGADS!!! Nature is cruel… BAH… Are you planning to visit regularly and update us?

  • Patty Chadwick

    A very hard decision to make, especially since so much of what we do(and don’t do) interfers one way or another with natures’s plan. I can identify with your angst! Like everyone else, I hope those babies make it! Back to Kylee, I would think the state of Utah would be interested in her poster. The wife of a friend was commissioned by the state of Alaska to do something similar. The image of a kestrel you allowed her to use was magnificent,as was her work…Obviously, I’m still celebrating her talent…and your generousity…

    • Patty, I think Oregon might be more interested in it than Utah since that’s where she’s from and the birds she chose to include are all found in Oregon (though most, perhaps all, of them are also found here in Utah. I think Kylee is a very special talent, especially combined with her love of birds.

    • Patty Chadwick

      Thanks for the correction…I meant to say Oregon, but my iPad and I can never agree on anything….these are state of Oregon birds and I would think the state would be very interested…

  • Neil Rossmiller

    We haven’t been back to see that nest (too late now) since springtime. Glad the parents are overseeing the misfortune with the tenacity necessary to overcome the trauma of the downed nest. Looks like the chicks are healthy at this point. Hopefully, they will be stronger through adversity.

  • Marty K

    Poor babies! I hope that they didn’t suffer any injuries from the fall. That’s quite a tumble. It’s been a bad week for raptor babies staying in their nests. Glory — one of the DC eagle cam eaglets — fell too, but seems to be OK. AEF is calling it an “accidental fledge.”

    Mother Nature can be a beyotch!

    • Marty K

      They are pretty cute, though. Looks like they have full crops too.

    • “Accidental fledge” – an interesting way to describe it, Marty. I kind of like it, actually.

      • Marty K

        Better than “Glory was a klutz and fell off his perch” I guess. 😉

        • Laura Culley

          At the Cornell nest, we called those accidental fledges “fludges.” Even in a normal situation, it seems there’s always one, generally a male (who’da thunk it), who’s out on the edge of the nest area, flapping and showing off his new wing feathers (you can almost hear the watch-THIS exclamation but without the beer) when a gust of wind happens out of the blue. And there they go–not the plan for that day, but there you have it.
          Life is certainly uncertain for these guys and the rest of the babies out there, but we pray and hope for the best.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Great observations and shots Ron! I hope they make it and fledged quickly.


  • Dick Harlow

    Wonder if the wind and storm helped to break their fall. I think the parents will be ever mindful of the chicks predicament. Just worry about mammalian predators.
    Thanks for the images and the post. Well done to leave them alone.

    • Dick, Thankfully I’ve never seen any coyotes anywhere near that road. In that area they’re shot on sight with no questions asked (which I don’t agree with of course).

      • Laura Culley

        Dick, we ALL do a much better job of bouncing safely when we’re young 🙂

        • Marty K

          You said it, Laura! I took a tumble last week while carrying a dog post-op. The dog’s completely unscathed (I broke her fall) and got adopted Saturday — I have bruises and scrapes all over. I don’t bounce like I used to! 😉

          • Laura Culley

            Good of you to break the dog’s fall Marty 🙂 I’m at the place now that if I fall, I break. So what am I doing today? Installing books on a tall bookshelf with a tile floor underneath. Sigh! Hoping for a safe day with another load of organized books.

  • Melanie Wells

    Can you return and get the two chicks off the ground and onto a perch? As long as they are on the ground they are vulnerable to predators. If a nearby perch is not available or if the chicks are too young to perch use a peach basket filled half full with twigs, nail it to the pole as high as possible and put the chicks inside. The parents will continue to raise them.

    • Melanie, DaLyn said to leave them be and that’s what I plan to do, assuming no further negative developments. They’re generally well hidden in thick grasses and other vegetation.

      • Melanie Wells

        Leaving Red-Tailed Hawk chicks on the ground in NC is a death sentence. I was a rehabilitator for over 30 years and we always at least got the birds of prey chicks up out of harms way if we could not return them to their own nest by using a replacement nest, platform or large tree branch if they were old enough to stay on a perch. Perhaps it is different in your neck of the USA.

  • It’s hard to bear but I am hoping for the best. They are vulnerable.

  • Elmer Deloso

    Very heart-warming story. Thank you.

  • Judy Gusick

    Glad the hawks are “making it” so far and glad you documented them. Even when we know a bit about them(and “mother” nature) it’s tough not to want to intervene as with the GHO owlet taking a tumble from the nest recently – if not injured they climb back up another tree and make do! 🙂 Suspect anything wanting to harass them may have a fight on their hands with the parents.:)