Neighborhood Swainson’s hawks fledge three; fall migration underway
By Barb Gorges
Just as they did last year, a pair of Swainson’s hawks nested in the neighbors’ spruce tree two houses down.
Thanks to some tree pruning in between, Mark and I had a perfect view of the nest from our bathroom window.
I’m sure the hawks were a little put out this spring to discover after their long migratory haul from Argentina that the field adjacent now sports a three-story apartment building under construction. But about a quarter mile away is the Greenway and the railroad right of way, still plenty of open space and tasty ground squirrels.
By July 7 we could see two fuzzy white heads in the nest. Nearly three weeks later they were mostly brown. And then the youngsters started climbing out of the nest and onto the tree branches. That’s when we realized there were three of them.
We think the day one of the juveniles left the nest for the first time was July 25. At 6 a.m., it was sitting on a bare branch just over our back wall, looking straight back at us through the kitchen window.
There were a few days the youngsters cried a lot for parental attention. One day they landed in our tree and then all three circled low over our block. It’s become quieter, but they are still spending time in the neighborhood, sometimes on the nest tree.
It amazes me that a large hawk, best suited for flying grasslands in search of rodents (summer) and large insects (winter), would choose to nest in a residential neighborhood. I’m glad we can provide the big trees they require to successfully breed.
The hummingbirds are a mystery this year. Their favorite red beebalm was halfway through blooming the last week in July and I hadn’t seen them yet.
I checked my records on eBird.org and saw since 2013 they have arrived for a three-week stay starting the last week of July or the first week of August. My beebalm is blooming ahead of schedule and they may miss it. I caught a glimpse of one hummingbird July 30 as it flitted quickly over other flowers.
Maybe the red beebalm is early this year because of all our earlier hot weather and moisture. Maybe the broad-tailed hummingbirds are later because our mountains, where they nest, have been unusually full of nectar-filled flowers and they are staying longer.
Maybe we should all put up our hummingbird feeders anyway. Remember, use a little heat to dissolve 1 part white sugar in 4 parts water. Use no other sugar types, use no red dye, and replace any nectar that gets cloudy-looking.
Weidensaul’s new book
Mark and I are reading “A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds” by Scott Weidensaul. A whole chapter is devoted to Swainson’s hawks and unraveling the mysteries of their breeding and migration using new tracking technology.
The book also discusses the number of ways migrating birds are killed by human actions, directly and indirectly, that are preventable.
For instance, because many songbirds migrate at night, one of their navigational aids is starlight. Unfortunately, the glow from cities is attracting them and studies show more migrants in cities than there used to be. But when the small birds land in the mornings, are they finding the trees and shrubbery full of insects they need to eat to recharge? Sometimes, they find well-lit skyscrapers and become disoriented, circling until exhausted, falling to the ground, discovered dead on the sidewalk in the morning.
City night light is detrimental to other life too, including plants and people without room-darkening shades. It increases with each porch and parking lot light left on. But it can also be decreased by one resident, one business owner and one municipality at a time.
For your home security lighting, see if you can use motion detection technology. You’ll save money on your electric bill. For parking lot lights and streetlights, chose those that are hooded, lighting only what’s below and not the sky. You’ll save money, too.
Without our own astronomical observatory, like Flagstaff, Arizona, I don’t think we will become an International Dark Sky City, asking Cheyennites to drive with only parking lights on, but it would be neat.
Fall migration has already begun. The Swainson’s hawk family will head south sometime after the middle of September. Only six or eight weeks after fledging, the young Swainson’s all over western North America make a journey of as much as 7,000 miles to the Argentine pampas. I imagine it looks something like Wyoming grasslands there. Safe travels, kids and parents.