Monday, May 13, 2013


I like to think that I have a fairly decent grasp of the english language but I am continually confronted by gaps in my knowledge base. The other day somebody asked me if the hawklings were still fledging? Not absolutely sure what they were referring to and now wanting to appear like a dolt, I blustered a vigorous assent and ran to the dictionary. What does it really mean to fledge? I was of course aware of the term fledgeling but felt that it covered any nascent period of adolescence.

Not quite. From Merriam Webster:

Definition of FLEDGE

intransitive verb
of a young bird
: to acquire the feathers necessary for flight or independent activity; also : to leave the nest after acquiring such feathers
transitive verb
1: to rear until ready for flight or independent activity
2: to cover with or as if with feathers or down
3: to furnish (as an arrow) with feathers
  1. The young birds haven't yet fledged.

Origin of FLEDGE

fledge capable of flying, from Middle English flegge, from Old English -flycge; akin to Old High German flucki capable of flying, Old English flēogan to fly — more at fly
First Known Use: 1566
Now, this is sort of confusing. I am in reality no closer to understanding what it means to fledge. Why, you may ask? Because the event describes the act of acquiring feathers prior to flight at one point and being capable of flight in another. To rear until ready for flight and to leave the nest after acquiring your wings, in aircraft parlance. Which is it?
Here is the meaning of the term fledge from Wikipedia:
Fledge is the stage in a young bird's life when the feathers and wing muscles are sufficiently developed for flight. It also describes the act of a chick's parents raising it to a fully grown state. A young bird that has recently fledged but is still dependent upon parental care and feeding is called a fledgling.
In ornithology, the meaning of fledging varies, depending on species. Birds are sometimes considered fledged once they leave the nest, even if they still cannot fly. Some definitions of fledge take it to mean the independence of the chick from the adults. Adults will often continue to feed the chick after it has left the nest and is able to fly.
Interesting that it also indicated feathering an arrow, In spanish an arrow is a flecha, the archer a flechador. I called my baby hawks hawklings. I don't know if it is correct terminology or not so I looked it up. From Answers.Com:
A newly hatched bird might be called a hatchling, while the term nestling or chick is sometimes applied. What is probably the most correct term for the young is eyass (pronounced "EYE-ess"). 
I get another new word, eyass. Definitely never heard that one before.

In terms of venery, two or more spiraling hawks are a boil. A cast or lease is a general word for multiples and a kettle are a large group flying together, something that true hawk watchers will tell you that they rarely or never see.

Here is a bit on the fledging and early stages of the red tailed from Wiki:
A clutch of 1 to 3 eggs is laid in March or April, depending upon latitude. Clutch size depends almost exclusively on the availability of prey for the adults. Eggs are laid approximately every other day. The eggs are usually about 60 x 47 mm (2.4 x 1.9 in). They are incubated primarily by female, with the male substituting when the female leaves to hunt or merely stretch her wings. The male brings most food to the female while she incubates. After 28 to 35 days, the eggs hatch over 2 to 4 days; the nestlings are altricial at hatching. The female broods them while the male provides most of the food to the female and the young, which are known as eyasses (pronounced "EYE-ess-ez"). The female feeds the eyasses after tearing the food into small pieces. After 42 to 46 days, the eyasses begin to leave the nest. The fledging period follows, with short flights engaged in, after another 3 weeks. About 6 to 7 weeks after fledging, the young begin to capture their own prey. Shortly thereafter, when the young are around 4 months of age, they become independent of their parents. However, the hawks do not generally reach breeding maturity until they are around 3 years of age. In the wild, Red-tailed Hawks have lived for at least 21 years. The oldest captive hawk of this species was at least 29 and a half years of age.


I drove out of the Santa Margarita River valley today and saw the mother red tailed hawk on a telephone pole. I grabbed the heavy camera off the car seat and jumped out of the car, motor running, with a quick look to ensure that I didn't lock myself out of the car. She flew away and I didn't get the ideal shot. Damn.

A short while later, I arrived at the nest and saw my hawk progeny. I would like to continue to use the word hawklings but found to my chagrin that it is not actually a word. Shame, it fits so well.

Mother showed up shortly thereafter, checking on her fledgelings. (Note, both fledgelings and fledglings are permissable spelling - ed.) They are in that gawky stage, quite large now and the nest is getting a bit cozy for three. They are losing some of the down of infancy and getting their darker feather foliage that they will wear throughout their adult life.

The shot you see above isn't very sharp. I should have shot at a higher f-stop for more depth of field. I include it because it is nice to see a little of mom's preening!

After spending a few minutes observing the birds I drove a bit further and saw this raptor on the wire. I believe that it might be a sharp shinned hawk although it may prove to be a plain old coopers. Its small beak makes me favor the former. Perhaps one of you birders will tell me?

I went for a walk with my pals Ron, Lena and Liz in the early afternoon yesterday and espied this yellow fellow high in a tall conifer. I am no birder but my guess is hooded oriole.


Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,

Nice pics of Red-tailed Hawk at the nest with young!

The smaller hawk perched on the wire is a Cooper's Hawk. Although the bill may look small, when you get a good look at a Sharp-shinned Hawk it is much smaller still! It is also quite unusual to see Sharp-shinned Hawk sitting in the open like this, they are very shy staying hidden in thick tree canopies or larger bushes. They also are not known to nest in the coastal lowlands unlike the Cooper's Hawk which is truly urban acclimated. It is very common to see Cooper's Hawk sitting around grandly surveying their domain like this!

Gary Nunn,
Pacific Beach

Anonymous said...

The yellow fellow is an Oriole. The oriole is an oreo stuffed with banana filling with wings added.