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Join the Editors for This Week’s Birding Highlights  
Wednesday August 8, 2018   |
Red-tailed Hawk fledgling
Ferruginous Hawk fledgling
An immature and adult Wood Stork photographed at the Silver Bluff Audubon Sanctuary by Lois Stacey.

Paul started this week’s visit:  A priority for the past two weeks has been monitoring my two favorite hawk broods daily, including three fledged Red-tails and three fledged Ferruginous Hawks. After the nestlings leave the nest, they begin the post-fledging period, during which they learn to fly and hunt and learn about all their surroundings, while the adults continue to feed the fledglings, and protect them.

All six of the hawks are really beautiful with bright new feathers. At the beginning of the week, which was a week after they fledged, the young hawks were not really flying, but they were taking pretty good short flights. They mostly perched in different locations and were very obviously watching everything that moves, below them, above them, all around them.

I saw one Red-tail fledgling take things a big step forward Tuesday when I saw it grabbing at things on the ground. While standing, it reached out with a talon to grab at something, maybe a big bug, then skip a couple steps to the right and grab at some other small moving entity that caught its eye. That’s the kind of behavior I expect when the hawks are learning to hunt; it’s the period when young birds of prey tend to grab at everything that moves as a vital part of learning to hunt. The activity results from innate (inborn) behavior that begins soon after fledging.

The Ferruginous fledglings have been more active this week compared to last week. Thursday, while photographing one fledgling, I observed a large silhouetted raptor flying toward me, which I thought was an adult considering it’s mastery of the wind in flight. But when it crossed to the east, the sunlight illuminated what turned out to be a fledgling’s plumage! I was thrilled to see the young hawk’s flight into and across the southeast wind, and I bet all three Ferrug fledglings are similarly adept at winging it.

Usually, the hawks remain in the area of the nest for four to six weeks. The adults still bring food to the nest, using it as a drop-off platform; this keeps the fledglings returning to the nest, and pretty close to the nest day after day. All fledgling are well-fed each day.

Yesterday, when I returned from my photo session with fledged Red-tails and Ferruginous Hawks, only three feet from my front door I took a double-take to see a really small fledgling robin perched atop a bare branch. Its tail feathers were only about ¼ inch long and it looked like the smallest robin fledgling I’ve ever seen.

The only reason I suggest it could “fly” is because today it was back again mid-afternoon, and later I saw it “fly” by my big bay window a couple times. The adults are very attentive, feeding the little robin, and they call with alarm from the trees when there is any indication of concern. The little one gives me great portrait opportunities on its perch, and even though I pass only three feet away to get in and out my front door, the mini-robin has not flushed as a result of my actions.

Through that same bay window the oriole action has increased with new orioles checking in for grape jelly treats, namely new Baltimore Orioles; most days this week I saw new individuals. It’s relatively easy to tell if new males visit, because they are molting some feathers, which makes different designs in their plumage that allow me to tell individuals apart. The Orchard Orioles don’t seem to have begun molting, and the main pair still actually appears to be nesting. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are more active at my feeding station. Only males have visited so far, and I had two jostling over the feeder one morning, so there has officially been more than one hummer at my feeder. So Peter, how many hummingbirds are attacking your feeders?


Peter countered:  Good week for you Paul! We must have 18 to 20 Ruby-throats at our feeders using Bill Hilton’s “Rule of Three” (see the article in this week’s Birding News section). But the hummer action at the feeder was the second most exciting thing in my birding week. Our local Silver Bluff Audubon Sanctuary hosted their annual Storks & Corks Festival – great people, wonderful food and wine, and amazing birds.

The Audubon Sanctuary manages three small ponds, covering five to 10 acres each, as Wood Stork foraging habitat. The project began years ago as mitigation for work that affected nearby natural wetland habitats. Audubon draws down the water in the ponds to entice the storks to come and feed.

Wood Storks are tactile feeders that open their bills an inch or so and swish them through the water. When they touch a fish or other prey, their bill instantly closes. This time of the year, both adults and immature storks search for shallow wetlands with reduced water levels, which concentrates aquatic prey such as fish, amphibians and crayfish. So, by lowering water levels at the sanctuary, the Audubon staff is mimicking a natural process that takes place during most late summers.

A group of about 70 guests headed to the ponds about 7 pm, where we enjoyed a great view of an adult Bald Eagle perched on a nearby snag. Rounding the corner to the ponds, we were stunned by the sight of about 350 Wood Storks clustered in one pond just 100 yards away. Many other wading birds joined them: Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, White Ibis and, much to the crowd’s delight, two Roseate Spoonbills. What a great collection, and that’s not all.

We also enjoyed some nice views of shorebirds as well: Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Killdeer and Semipalmated Plovers. This bounty of wetland birds was new for many of the guests and they enjoyed the sights, sounds and educational opportunities. We also raised good money for Audubon, and I want to give special thanks to Swarovski for providing a spotting scope that greatly enhanced everyone’s viewing pleasure.

Photographs by Paul Konrad and Lois Stacey

Peter Stangel and Paul Konrad are the editors of The Birding Wire and can be reached at editorstbw2@gmail.com

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