Thursday, April 1, 2010
Harris's Hawks and Mystery Nests
I seldom see Harris's Hawks flying or perching just one at a time. Young hawks often remain with their parents for a few years and may even help raise new broods. They hunt together in twos, threes, or small groups. I've seen them hunting cooperatively and then sharing their catch, perhaps a rabbit, ground squirrel, or wood rat. Later in the summer, when the young have fledged, family groups hunt in the fields across the river or across the road. Young hawks look like adults except for brown streaks on the breast, wings and tail.
I've read that Kiskadees sometimes take almost a month to finish building these big football-shaped nests. I can see how that could be--they keep taking time out to call loudly to each other, display their gold crests, and even tumble in the air as I saw them do yesterday. Their name comes from their loud call of "kiskadee!" but I think it just as often sounds like "oh, boy!" or "kiss, kiss, kiss a boy! kiss a boy, kiss a boy!" The Kiskadee has also been called the Derby Flycatcher because of its black and white "hat."
Here's another photo, this one taken as a Kiskadee was calmly sitting on a branch this winter. It seems they are never calmly sitting these days as they swoop up to their nest and down to the baths, calling and displaying the hidden gold crest at the top of their heads. I like this picture because it shows that line of gold, the edge of mouth and the back beak which is bright gold, contrasting with the black beak and thick black eye line.
The first time I saw a Kiskadee, I had first heard it calling loudly outside my classroom when I had just begun teaching at Harlingen High School. Though in the middle of a discussion, I ran to the door, and saw two boisterous Kiskadees fly into an Ash tree in the courtyard. Between classes I hurried down to the library for a field guide that identified the bright yellow and rufous bird with its black and white "hat." We had only recently moved to the Valley, and after seeing this spectacular bird just outside my classroom door, I knew we would stay here for the rest of our lives! (I also begankeeping a field guide on the shelf beneath the classroom window and beside the window posted a list of birds seen from the room. Over the years the list grew and I've had former students tell me they became interested in birds after being in my class. I didn't teach science, but literature -- but I guess if they see a teacher run outside at the call of a bird, they get an idea of how enthusiastic some birders can be.
Another large nest appeared suddenly in a Hackberry tree in December after the leaves had all fallen off the tree. Of course it had been there all along, but the leafy hackberry hid it well. At first I thought it was a squirrel's nest because it was so large and covered with leaves, but the leaves that had apparently accumulated in our brief "fall" soon blew off, leaving a woven nest made of twigs and some palm fibers, not as messy as a squirrel's nest. (I'm not an expert on any nests, really, so I could be wrong about this. I have never seen a squirrel near it, though, so I finally concluded it was a bird's nest. Our squirrels usually nest in the palm trees or an owl box until we chase them out.) Anyway, I don't know what built the nest---and I'm surprised I didn't see it last summer since it is very near the upstairs back porch. All winter, Green Jays stashed corn kernels in it (click on the photo if you can't see the corn), but it has no inhabitants this spring. Could it have been built by Green Jays? So far, it's still a mystery.
Every winter when the foliage is thinner, I find nests and wonder how I missed them when they were inhabited. I guess I'm not always a keen observer, not what you would call hawk-eyed. About a month ago I found four nests in a small Brasil tree out near the end of the driveway, right underneath where the two hawks were perched yesterday. Three of the nests were constructed of small twigs, probably doves' nests, and one is a small woven one that looks a lot like the ones the Hooded Orioles build in palm trees. I've got an order in to Amazon.com for a nest guide book which should help my investigation into just who might have constructed these old nests.
This nesting season I want to keep better track. I need to do a census of the inhabitants of our yard. That's a good resolution for today--April 1, 2010--Census Day. It's too early yet to do a nesting census, but it's something I intend to do. I'll be careful not to disturb the nesters, but no nest will escape my keen observation: I'll be hawk-eyed.