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