Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine gifts and romance - hawk-style!

Despite the layers of snow and ice still covering the streets of Philadelphia, the lengthening days are triggering the nesting instincts of the Franklin hawks.  In the early morning before Valentine's Day, Kay, Caroline and I made a quick trip to the nest, and saw that the hawks were definitely "in the mood."

Kay has a new camera lens - about 3 feet long! - so this was a great opportunity to put it to the test.

At 7:30 AM, both haggards were perched side by side in a tree across the street about 50 yards from the nest.  The tiercel (dad) made two flights in quick succession to the nest, each time carrying a stick. 


When he landed at the nest, he would stay for about a minute arranging his stick....


.... and then fly swiftly right back to his lady-love.


When he returned from his second delivery of a stick, he landed right beside the formel (mom) and immediately jumped on top of her and they copulated.  No romantic build-up with these two!


One of the two emitted a loud screech or two. Then they sat side by side again for a couple of minutes.

He made another trip to the nest with a longer stick....

....then flew back to the same tree, but landed in a higher branch from the formel.  He hopped around from branch to branch, almost as if he were looking for an even better stick.  The formel never moved from where she had been sitting when we first arrived.

The tiercel flew for the fourth time to the nest with a stick.  

When he returned to the formel, he once again jumped on her and they copulated for a second time with more screeching.  

All this took place in the span of 25 minutes.  Timing is everything.....

Both birds sat in the tree for another few minutes then each flew off in slightly different directions, and perched separately in a couple of other trees. 

Does he have a slightly smug "mission accomplished" expression?

The last we saw of them was both flying low behind some buildings, then they flew farther and farther away till we lost sight of them.

I sent an account of the morning's activity to John Blakeman, and as always, he was generous in sharing his observations:

"Yes, the 2011 nesting season has begun in earnest. All of what you saw indicates this. The frequent copulations (not, properly, "matings") indicate that the lengthening days are affecting the birds' endocrine systems. Breeding hormones are flowing copiously. The tiercel is acting in response to these, including the bringing to the nest of the sticks (and later, leaves and such, for lining), along with the frequent copulations. The formel will do a lot of sitting around, watching the hectic activities of the tiercel, thereby prompting eventual ovulation.
The snow and cold have absolutely nothing to do with any of this. It's all controlled by the increasing length of the days, nothing else.
All of this indicates that the pair remains fully bonded, and will replicate the previous years' successes (barring unforeseen calamities).
Spring is on its way, snow and cold (both in Philadelphia and northern Ohio) notwithstanding. Once again, a new Red-tail breeding season is wonderfully underway.
--John Blakeman


  1. Phillies fever and hawk watching! Spring is just around the corner !

  2. Wow, great photos and wonderful information. Thanks so much. Isn't nature amazing?

    Lias B.

  3. You guys are amazing in your dedication, spotting skills and fabulous photography! Can't that you enough for everything. All fascinating.

  4. Thanks, Team, for the magnificent pictures and article. This just adds to my excitement of seeing 2 redtails in Jersey over the weekend while sitting at a stop light. The first attacked something on the ground in a small field to my left. It was manteling, but flew off without it's prey. Immediately, another redtail flew in and took "something" away in it's talons. I almost missed the green light!

  5. Just the wonderful news this winter weary soul needed. Excellent pictures Kay! Thanks for sharing! Maureen