Big Bend Conservancy
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Aug. 17, 2007, 6:51PMHawks show off their parenting skillsFledglings learn to fly, catch food, protect themselvesBy GARY CLARKFor several years, Kathy and I have watched the nesting common black-hawks and gray hawks at Big Bend National Park. The hawks are rare spectacles in the rest of the United States but are often seen in Big Bend.We saw them with fledglings a few weeks ago, each fledgling perched out on a limb by itself.The fledgling stage is a precarious time in a young hawk's life, because even though it has flight feathers, it's not quite ready to soar and hunt for food like an adult. Like a human teenager, it's almost grown up but not enough to make it on its own.And hawk parents — like human parents of a teenager — must protect their youngster while at the same time coaxing it to venture out into the world. It's a delicate balance. The fledgling must be fed and protected from predators, but it must be encouraged to take full flight in order to survive.We first saw a young common black-hawk perched inconspicuously on the limb of a tree among a dense grove of cottonwoods at Rio Grande Village. (The park service has cordoned off the grove to protect the nesting hawks.) Then the mother arrived on the scene.She called to her fledgling in an emphatic high-pitched whistle. The youngster called back as if to say, "Here I am." The mother alighted on the branch by her young one and passed it a fish, which the youngster devoured with the ravenous appetite of a teenager.Mom was adorned in coal-black plumes with a broad white band across the tail. She flashed an orange cere and displayed white marks under her eyes. The kid was mottled brownish-black with heavy streaking on its breast.We saw more parenting with a young gray hawk about 60 miles west at Cottonwood Campground. In this case, both parents were present and squealing at the youngster in sharp, high-pitched whistles while perched about 100 feet away.They seemed determined to get the kid to fly. They even demonstrated soaring high in the sky and diving in acrobatic flights like the U.S. Navy's elite Blue Angels.Trimmed in light gray plumes with two white tail bands, the adults were striking aerialists. But the young hawk wouldn't move.We watched the parents coax the fledgling for three days until the young hawk spread its wings and flew to another cottonwood tree. One of the parents gave it a fresh lizard as an apparent reward.To contact naturalist Gary Clark and photographer Kathy Adams Clark, visit their Web site at http://home.houston.rr.com/wondersofnatureRESOURCESBig Bend birds Big Bend's rare hawks will finish rearing young in Big Bend National Park until November. • Common black-hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus ) nests in restricted cottonwood grove in Big Bend National Park and in other areas of Southwest Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Migrates south of the border for the winter. • Gray hawk (Buteo nitidus ) nests in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the Big Bend region and southeastern Arizona. Most migrate south of the border for the winter. Houston hawks Thousands of birds of prey will migrate over Houston from northern breeding grounds toward wintering grounds in Latin America from now until November. • Species include: Broad-winged hawks (Buteo platypterus ) Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis ) Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus ) Sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus ) Swainson's hawks (Buteo swainsoni ) • Best hawk-watching spot: Smith Point Hawk Watch Tower in the Candy Cain Abshier Wildlife Management Area on Smith Point at East Galveston Bay. • Details: Contact Gulf Coast Bird Observatory at www.gcbo.org.For several years, Kathy and I have watched the nesting common black-hawks and gray hawks at Big Bend National Park. The hawks are rare spectacles in the rest of the United States but are often seen in Big Bend.
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