Your Weekly–‘Tiny Moment’

(from SVBC charter member Gail Hewson Hull)

It was Alfred Lord Tennyson who said “Nature, red in tooth and claw”. 

My sister invited me over to her property in Santa Fe County, NM, just a couple of miles from our home, to see and photograph two Northern Harrier chicks that have been enjoying constant parental oversight since the nest was constructed in April. Sue thought they were about to fledge, so on Saturday morning I was there at 8:15 am. Alas, Sue met me with an anguished face. There had been an attack overnight, and it appeared at least one chick was ravaged with its body and one wing hanging over the side of the nest about 20 feet high in a pinyon pine. There was no sign of the other fledgling. 

Suddenly a hawk flew to a tree just 15- 20 feet away from us. We thought at first it was the female Northern Harrier. I took the photo you will see below. She looked at us, and then looked at the nest. Clearly, she had not adjusted to the abrupt change in her daily devotion to her chicks. Or so we thought. (The male was nowhere in sight). 

However, when I sent the photo to my birding friend, Bob, he said, “Hold on. That is an adult female Northern Goshawk, not a Harrier! The Goshawks had made a nest on Sue’s property last year!! Our current hypothesis is that the Goshawks did not like the Northern Harriers invading their territory, and attacked the fledglings just before they were ready to leave the nest and start learning to hunt. Or, as Bob suggested, it might have been an Great Horned Owl attack. Or Ravens. 

So it doesn’t feel like a tiny moment at all, but it is a lesson once again about how few nests, even that of a medium sized hawk, produce healthy fledglings that survive on their own. From Google:

The average overall nesting survival rate of baby birds is only about 56% but this can range between 46% and 73% for most birds. Birds of prey like Red-Tailed Hawks have high nesting survival rates of 88.9% but smaller songbirds like House Sparrows have only 11.6%.My sister was so sad; we hugged, and I went on my way. But it has been hard to shake the wish to know exactly what happened to those birds on the brink of exploring the world.

Northern Goshawk: courtesy of Gail Hewson Hull

FYI: Please keep sending your Tiny Moments. Starting next week, a Tiny Moment will be published each Wednesday and Sunday.