A Clumsy Red-tailed Hawk Fledgling From Yet Another Nest

Yesterday morning was a bittersweet experience for me on the young Red-tailed Hawk front. I’m afraid I have some bad news but it will be balanced by much more positive developments.


This is two of the three youngsters whose nest was blown down from a power pole (while they were in it) in an incredible wind storm several weeks ago. Yesterday morning we found these two safe but the third chick was road kill on the side of the road. I’ll spare you (and me) the photos but at least it hadn’t been smashed all over the pavement – we found it on the very edge of the road, obviously killed by collision with a vehicle.

I moved it into the tall grasses to give it a more secluded and dignified place to return to the earth. As you can imagine that unpleasant experience put a significant damper on the rest of my day but the Red-tailed Hawk news got much better as the morning progressed.

I’ve been monitoring three nests for months now. Two of the three youngsters from this nest are still doing well, all three chicks in the “cliff nest” I’ve posted about regularly have apparently fledged and are thriving and both chicks in a third nest that I’ve rarely mentioned have also very recently fledged.

When you think about it, that’s 7 out of 8 youngsters that have made it to fledging (or very nearly so) – an 87.5% success rate so far and it seems to me that’s pretty damned good!

  • Birds of North America Online reports that the average (mean) number of successful fledglings produced by red-tail nests per year in different US states varies from a low of .91 to a high of 1.8 fledglings per nest. These three nests I’ve been monitoring averaged 2.33 fledglings!


The following image, taken yesterday morning, is of one of the two very recent fledglings from the third nest that I’ve seldom mentioned in my blog.



1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This youngster and its sibling were LOADS of fun to watch and photograph. They’re both still extremely clumsy and barely flying. This one was trying to maintain stability as it perched on a dead snag sticking out of the ground and having very little success. The bird repeatedly lost its balance and this is one of my favorite shots of it trying to recover.

I love the image for its natural habitat, the interesting pose in good light, the great look at all that beautiful and fresh ventral plumage and the obvious bulging crop (both birds had been feeding on a probable rabbit that had apparently been dropped in the vicinity by one of the parents). And of course for the endearing quality of a very young and awkward hawk trying to learn the ropes in such a clumsy manner.

I took about 1100 photos yesterday morning and the majority of them were of this bird and its sibling so I have a lot of image reviewing and culling to do but I can assure you that you’ll be seeing more photos of both of them sometime in the future.

Believe me, after finding that road-killed youngster my spirits needed a pick-me-up and these two fledglings were the perfect remedy.




46 comments to A Clumsy Red-tailed Hawk Fledgling From Yet Another Nest

  • Susan Stone

    I am so sorry to hear about the roadkill chick. But I’m glad it’s siblings are fine. The chick from the third nest proves for me that young Red Tails are, in their own way, as cute as young Burrowing Owls.

    • Agreed, Susan. When I’m looking at a juvenile red-tail “just standing there” their fierce countenance and profile look almost like an adult but when you watch such a young hawk displaying all of its physical clumsiness and awkwardness that “cute factor” comes out, big time!

  • Patty Chadwick

    Inspite of the fact that I am a wimp who can’t stand to see images of birds like Galileo hung up in the Devil’s wire, I am very, very grateful that you post them…and think even if you educate only one person about the hazards of the damned stuff, it’s well-worth posting…

  • Sad to read, indeed. I’m delighted by the balancing chick though. 😀

  • Stephen Clayson


    Happy July. Thanks for the update. Sorry about the bad news. Great photo of the youngster trying to get used to his/her new environment. Keep them coming.


  • Joanne OBrien

    Beautiful photograph of a beautiful bird! Thanks again. I’m sad about the lost chick but happy you could balance that tale out with the positive news of other thriving raptors!

  • Chris Sanborn

    Oh, that’s such a hard find (and loss). Bless you for moving its poor broken body to prevent further insult. I am so disappointed all three did not beat the odds so heavily stacked against them, but it is heartening that the two siblings are nearing the stage of fledge success. Love the photo of the wobbly one — they do have expressions and postures that amaze and amuse! Thanks for the sharing the good and the sad with us, Ron. Hoping as you are for more of the former in the days ahead, of course.

    • Well said, Chris. I think you’ve summarized how many of us feel. I dreaded spreading the sad news on my blog but knew I had to after reporting on those birds so often.

      • Marty K

        As difficult as it was to read, I’m glad you don’t sugar-coat your blog. It’s “realness” is part of what brings me in every day. (BTW, I still tear up every time I see the shot of Galileo in the devil wire.). It’s the survival successes in spite of the odds that make for the best stories. And you have the pictures to prove them!

        • Thanks very much for understanding so well, Marty. Speaking of Galileo, I may be able to see him “in action” in a couple of weeks. Hawkwatch is having an “event” near me soon and I’m hoping Galileo will be there.

          • Marty K

            I’m so jealous! I’ve looked at his profile on their site often. I hope you’ll be able to take some photographs to share with “the family.” (Hint. Hint.). 😉

  • Laura Culley

    Thank you SO much for the photo of the little goober balancing on the stick. I never tire of watching the young ones play while they’re learning to be big hawks. Beyond the comical and cuteness, I just take a sheer delight in watching a new generation take their place in the wild. Have I mentioned that I LOVE redtails (raptors/birds/critters)?
    Then, there’s my heavy sigh! Yes, I KNOW the statistics, the realities of life in redtail hawk land (along with those of other raptors/birds/critters), but I mourn each and every loss, especially when it’s a human-caused loss. What really gets me mad is that we humans are mostly oblivious to what we’re doing to this spinning rock where we live with others! I’ve seen people deliberately try to hit various critters on the roads and I just want to strangle them–just for fun.
    A falconer friend of mine (who also has a propogation permit) bred two of his Harris’ hawks and had a nest of two bouncing babies. However, last weekend, both died one after the other. The first, a female, died of unknown causes. As raptors do, she showed few symptoms before she died in the raptor way–don’t ever show any weakness. He found her on the ground in the morning, brought her into the house (A/C) and she died less than an hour later. He found the second, a male, on the ground the next morning and rushed him to the vet. An X-Ray showed that he’d somehow snapped his spine and had to be put down since there was no hope for recovery. How did he break his spine? Who knows? He was in that pre-fledge stage when they’re flapping their wings and practicing flight. Something went very, VERY wrong in the process.
    You know how we falconers are hard-hearted and don’t bond with our birds? Yeah, NO! That’s just wrong for most of us. My friend is devastated saying, “This is the kind of thing that makes you want to give up on falconry!” The Brits would say, “He’s gutted.” The Harris’ hawk parents are also distressed. I know he (and the parents) will recover from this loss–he loves flying his Harris’ hawks out in the desert, but this loss will stay with him forever. What happened and how can he stop it from happening again?
    I didn’t know of his loss and went to visit him yesterday, really looking forward to seeing the little goobers. My heart aches at their loss. So I really needed that happy photo today to re-center my focus on the joy of life. A profound THANK YOU!

    • That’s a very sad story, Laura. I’m glad that the timing of my second photo was able to help lift your spirits again.

      • Laura Culley

        Gotta keep your eyes focused on the joy and the positive. Mourn the loss, mitigate the circumstances, but keep moving into the joy–that’s what I’ve learned from life. And like Marty said, thanks so much for not sugar-coating things. Disney (and others) do that quite nicely so that humans don’t have much of a clue about life in the REAL world. SIGH!

    • Oh Laura. I am so so sorry. Inadequate but true. My heart aches for your friend, for you, for all those involved in this loss.

    • Patty Chadwick

      Your poor friend!!! Sorry, too, for the chicks’ parents…such a nasty surprise for all….

      • Laura Culley

        Raptors balance on a narrow knife blade between being incredibly tough and incredibly fragile. I guess, in reflection, we all do, but I sure wish they’d give us a little more warning when they’re sick. We’re only human.

    • Marty K

      That’s so sad. I’m very, very sorry.

  • Not unexpected, but still so very sad. Thank you for moving the body.
    I too went through gawky stages. I stuck in mine, which this fledgling won’t.
    I am so very pleased to hear that on average the youngsters are surviving AND thriving.

  • Jean Haley

    Beautiful babies. It’s always sad when some don’t make it, but I am so glad the other two did.

  • April Olson

    Beautiful photo. They are so fun to watch.

    Sorry to hear of you find, it is touch and go when your nest doesn’t blow down!

  • Porcupine

    Guess these boys haven’t yet quite reached the “majestic” stage of life! Fun photos Ron.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Sad, but not surprised…between the proximity to the road and increased exposure to predators from being “grounded”, I’m surprised there are even two left…that must have been a depressing find…moving the chick to a more respectful place was something I understand because I’ve done the same thing…I hope the others make it…the odds are certainly stacked against them…but,,at least they’re doing OK so far….

  • Marty K

    I’m sorry to hear about the third chick. Thank you for moving it to a better resting place. I can only imagine that it might feel like a loss of one’s own after all the time and attention.

    Looking forward to more fledgling shots. This one reminds me of my first time on my bike after my dad took off the training wheels.

    • Your bike analogy is a good one, Marty. This bird wobbled, twisted, fell, flapped and recovered several times – just like I remember doing when I was learning to ride my “big boy’s bike” about 300 years ago…

  • frank sheets

    Sorry to hear about the chick. If it had to happen, I guess I would have preferred more a natural mortality instead of a road kill. Being hit by a car is just kind of sickening to me. But glad your day was lighten up by the fledgling. Must really have been fun watching.

    • Frank, those two young birds later in the morning were just what I needed after that earlier experience. They made the long drive home much less depressing.

  • Marina schultz

    Oh. I would be upset too !! people just don’t understand the hardship birds go through raising they’re young .. love your pictures.. you need to find a swainson nest .. they are last to fledge along with ospreys ..

  • Charlotte Norton

    Super shot Ron! Sorry to lose one but happy the other 2 are doing well.


  • Judy Gusick

    Well, hell! Even knowing the odds were against the chicks it’s sad. 🙁 Glad there are 2 still thriving and “getting the hang” of moving about and the 3rd wasn’t a “pancake” on the road. Great capture on the clumsy chick! 🙂

    • Judy, when I read the statistics on survivorship to the fledgling stage and then through the first year they’re pretty depressing so on average these youngsters are doing very well. I just hope that trend continues for them.