Monday, March 10, 2014

Red-tailed Hawks at Cornell University

Big Red and Ezra are at it again!  The resident celebrities of Cornell University, located in Ithaca, NY, have begun "nestorations" in preparation for another breeding season.  The platform they are using is a set of lights on an athletic field.  They have nested here for years, and their return is highly anticipated. Big Red, the female, was banded (right leg) in 2003 during her first autumn, making her almost 9 years old; Ezra was banded (left leg) as a adult in 2006, so he is at least 7 years old. The oldest known Red-tailed hawk was nearly 29 years old!

Big Red in back, Ezra in front
Ezra arranging materials in the nest cup

Ezra shaping the nest cup by wiggling back and forth
The Red-tailed hawk (RTH) is the most common species in North America, living in the continental US year-round, into Canada during breeding season, and down in Mexico during the winter.  A very large Buteo hawk, second in size to the Ferruginous, the females weigh on average 2.5 pounds, with a body length of about 2 feet and a wingspan of approximately 4 feet; the males, as is typical in raptors, are smaller. 

All raptors are hunters, earning the term "birds of prey".  The preferred foods of RTHs are small mammals, but they also go after smaller birds, snakes, and sometimes carrion.  They have extremely powerful feet for catching prey, and razor-sharp beaks for tearing their food.  As dangerous as they are, they are extremely gentle, nurturing, and dedicated parents.  They mate for life, or until a more dominant bird takes over.

Big Red will lay between 1 and 5 buff-and-speckled eggs, about the same size as a chicken egg, which they both will incubate for an average of 30 days.  Raptors are altricial birds, which means the chicks will hatch completely helpless, with only the lightest of fuzzy down; for Big Red and Ezra, their chicks will 'live at home' for 4 to 6 weeks before fledging and finding their own territories. 

Their courtship ritual is quite the sight:  after soaring in high circles, the male will dive down, then back up, at steep angles; several aerial feats later, he swoops down to the female, extends his legs, and touches her briefly.  On occasion, they will lock talons and spiral to the ground, letting go and regaining altitude sometimes at what seems the last minute.  

You can keep up with Big Red at Ezra at the Livestream site:

Read more about Red-tailed hawks and other birds at the Cornell University's All About Birds site:

Stay tuned to this blog for other nestcam updates, and thank you for stopping by!

Bird Girl

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

2009 Zebra Finch Babies! UPDATED 03-15-2009: With the big birds now

I recently acquired a male and female Zebra finch, who had been desperately been trying to have babies in the pet store where they had lived. I guess it was too busy or something there, because they never were successful.

Not even a week after I brought them home, the female began laying eggs. Soon, she had four eggs in the nest. I checked them after a week ("candling" the egg -- holding it up to a light to see inside), and saw veins and little heartbeats! So, I knew they were fertile.

Well, last week, the first chick hatched! The second chick hatched the next day, and the third and fourth chicks hatched two days after that. Unfortunately, the fourth one did not survive; however, the three that have survived are doing very well so far!

Zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), from Australia, are named for the stripes seen on their breast in their natural color mutation. The chicks have black beaks, while adult females have bright orange beaks and the males red-orange beaks; Zebra fincehs are half the size of a ping-pong ball, and make the cutest beeps and twitters almost all the time. In the wild, they can live about 5 years; in captivity anywhere from 5 to 12 years.

Male Zebra finch. Picture from the internet.

They eat seed, preferably millet, but also eat fruits and vegetables, eggs (the calcium of the shell helps replenish calcium lost when producing eggs of their own), and mealworms. They are messy little birds, and fling seed all over the place; this is Nature's way of spreading seed around.

Zebra finches make elaborately woven nests out of plant fibers and other materials. Mine have even used curling ribbon which I've put in their cage to play with! The nest they build is substantial for such small birds, and is an oval shape with a "cave" inside, so the birds are surrounded by the nest material.

Wild Zebra finch nest. Picture from the internet.

The female will lay 3 to 12 eggs per clutch (young in eggs), and the eggs hatch about 14-16 days after being laid, in the order in which they were laid. Zebra finches are excellent parents, constantly caring for the chicks by providing warmth, protection and food. The male prefers to sit atop the nest while the female is laying eggs, but they will sleep together at night on the eggs.

My chicks began hatching on 15 January 2009. Three days later, all four eggs had hatched. The chicks have soft white fuzz which sticks straight up -- kind of like Einstein's hair -- and pink, translucent skin which is paper thin. You can see their organs, intestines, everything through the skin. They have little black spots on the roof of the mouth to direct the parents where to put the food. And they gape (open the mouth to beg for food) as often as possible! When gaping, they wiggle their heads from side to side, and waggle their tongues from side to side, and with the white fuzz it on the head it just looks so funny! Can't help but giggle when you see them!

So here are my three Zebra finch chicks (the fourth one did not survive). No, they are not named yet; we'll see what kind of personality each one has. The parents, however, are This One and That One; I know, odd names. My Orange bishop weavers are Dennis, Dream and Sigourney, just as corny!

I hope to keep this updated with the progress of the little babies. Keep in mind that being a baby bird is extremely difficult, and the survival rate is only about 50% in the wild -- in captivity, of course, those odds can be greatly increased, but the risk is still there. I hope you enjoy watching their journey as much as I do!

Zebra finch chicks #1 & 2, eggs #3 and 4 on 01-16-2009. Picture by Delphia Janiszeski

Zebra finch chicks #1, 2 and 3; note the extremely full crop of the one on the far left! Picture by Delphia Janiszeski

Zebra finch chick gaping; note the "directing" spots inside the mouth and the bright white sides of the mouth. Isn't the fuzz adorable?!? 01-18-2009 Picture by Delphia Janiszeski

Zebra finch chicks #1, 2 and 3 (l to r) on 01-18-2009 Picture by Delphia Janiszeski

UPDATE: 01-21-2009

All three chicks are still doing well! Pin feathers have appeared on #1 and #2, and #1's eyes are starting to open! Chick #3 was born a few days after the others, and is much smaller; I suspect that it might be getting overlooked some of the time, because it's crop is never as completely stuffed as the other two. Today, I took the little one out and gave it a few seeds, while it peeped plaintively and waggled it's little tongue back and forth. They're so cute!

In this picture, you can see the great size difference between the three chicks:

Zebra finch chicks, 01-21-2009 picture by Delphia Janiszeski

Here, you can see the pin feathers breaking through the skin:

Zebra finch chick #1, 01-21-2009 picture by Delphia Janiszeski

Here's a shot of #3, seeds in his crop.

Zebra finch chick #3 01-21-2009 picture by Delphia Janiszeski

And here are the parents in the nest. You can see one of the chicks peeking up between them.

Zebra finch parents in the nest 01-21-2009 picture by Delphia Janiszeski

UPDATE: 01-25-2009

All three chicks have opened their eyes!

UPDATE: 01-27-2009

A picture of all three chicks. Look how big they are already!

Zebra finch chicks #1, 2, 3 (top to bottom) 01-27-2009 picture by Delphia Janiszeski

UPDATE: 02-01-2009

Chick #1 has left the nest! The parents, This and That were not happy and were extremely chatty and kept close to the chick. Before putting it back in the nest, I took a few pics. Chick #1 was hatched is 17 days old in these photos.

That, This and #1 (l-r) on the occasion of #1's first foray out of the nest on 02-01-2009. picture by Delphia Janiszeski

#1 Perching on a low branch during his first time out of the nest on 02-01-2009. picture by Delphia Janiszeski

Zebra Finch chick #1 looking befuddled after leaving the nest for the first time on 02-01-2009. picture by Delphia Janiszeski

Chick #1 and #2 (l-r) in the nest. Chick #3 is behind and under them and not visible. Taken 02-01-2009. picture by Delphia Janiszeski

UPDATE: 02-04-2009

ALL THREE CHICKS HAVE LEFT THE NEST!! Chick #3 still has a few tufts of baby fuzz, and he is visibly smaller than the other two, but he is doing well! He is much more timid than the other two, and I did not want to stress him out by taking pictures, so you'll just have to use your imagination!

UPDATE: 02-17-2009

The chicks' beaks are starting to change color! You can see in this picture, there is a tiny bit of orange showing up on the tip and at the nostrils.

Zebra finch chick #1, taken 02-17-2009 picture by Delphia Janiszeski

UPDATE: 03-13-2009

Yesterday, I put the Zebra finches outside for a few hours to start getting used to being there and to see the other finches with whom they will be living. As soon as I took them out, all the finches in the outdoor cage started beeping and chirping, and that got the Zebras going. It was so cute!

If it stays over 60 degrees (F) for five nights in a row, I will put them outside with the other finches. I'm so excited to be able to see the conclusion of this journey!

The Zebra finches outside for the first time on 12 March 2009. Picture by Delphia Janiszeski.

Here is the whole family. Left to right are 2, 3, 1, This and That.

Chicks 2, 3, 1 and parents This and That enjoying their first time outside. Taken 3-12-2009. Picture by Delphia Janiszeski.

UPDATE: 03-15-2009  "In with the big birds now!"

The family spent their first night outside last night, and all went well.  They joined the dawn chorus and were beeping up a storm!  Since that went fine, I decided to go ahead and put them in with the rest of my finches (I brought home a pair of button quail from a friend yesterday, too.).  So far, so good!

I am elated that all three chicks have grown up to be happy, healthy birds.  I'm so glad I could share this adventure with all of you, my nestwatching friends!