Thursday, March 19, 2015

March 18, 2015 - March Madness

From: [] On Behalf Of Paul

Roberts [arlingtonbirds]

Sent: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 11:01 PM

To: 185redtails];

Subject: [Arlington Birds] March Madness (long): Buzz, Belle & Other Redtails

There was March Madness long before the NCAA basketball tournament was established. March Madness was coined by Red-tailed Hawks long before large round balls were tossed into bottomless peach baskets (or whatever).

Redtails own the term. In March, most Redtails have to migrate back to their breeding grounds, return to their territory of the previous successful year, start work repairing an old nest or building a new one, drive out any wintering Redtails, and defend the territory against all comers, except for the mate of choice. The male then has to see if his previous mate returns as well or if he has to keep showing off his real estate and physical prowess as a hunter and provider to attract any interested female who appeals to him as well. Or both of the above. A familiar mate is probably easier and quicker when it comes to nesting and mating. There is familiarity, and shared common experience. Especially if they successfully raised a brood together before. A new mate might be more challenging, maybe exciting, but there would be lots of adjustments and uncertainties. That might make it more difficult for him to defend his mate, nest and territory. Suddenly it becomes clearer why hawks that have nested together successfully before are more likely to nest successfully again. For both, pairing with a successful mate is a known “quantity,” improving the odds of success again. Mating with someone new raises more questions and likely worsens the odds of success.

Whatever the challenges of finding/selecting a mate might be, the male then encounters the challenges of making the nest ready and acceptable for his mate while establishing hard boundaries for his territory. What definitive boundaries will he defend with intensity and if need be, ferocity, to keep other Redtails (and most other hawks) from infringing the critical nesting territory? What are the soft boundaries for hunting territory where he will accept passage and possibly some hunting but certainly not nesting by neighboring Redtails? What is the difference between perching versus purely aerial infringements of territory? How high does the intruder have to be to escape without paying a price. Then there is the challenge of finding adequate food to prepare his mate for egg production and copulation. In good years it could be a challenge, but after an unusually cold, snowy winter, it could be much more than that.

And then, what if you are a second-year bird? You have survived the horrors of your first winter, which probably killed more of your age cohort than anything else, except possibly for the fall and return spring migration. But as the increasing intensity of the sunlight is palpable, and the days grow longer and warmer, you begin to feel strange new urges, to find and establish a territory, to find or attract a mate, to nest and raise young. These are essentially new feelings, and you are not exactly sure of what you are doing or how to do it right. You feel the desire to soar, and sky dance, and duet, and you see others doing it. You rely on instinct, but you need a little bit more than that, and you have to migrate back to wherever to do this, or do you? Life is full of questions and risks for a Redtail in its second spring. Some may actually find a mate and nest successfully, but most likely do not. It is a time to explore, take chances, learn, and gain experience. That will greatly improve our chances for success in your third year. Those that nest in their second year are likely to be unsuccessful, but some might succeed.

March Madness. Utter madness. It theoretically should be easier if you are a year-round resident. You’ve survived the winter. You don’t need to go through all that migration crap, waiting out bad weather. Looking for prey in habitats totally unfamiliar to you. Looking for anything you can capture and eat because you can’t find the old familiar gray squirrel in the grasslands, or the meadow vole in a long stretch of forest. As a year-round resident, you basically know the soft boundaries of your territory. You just have to re-establish the hard boundaries. You should already have at least one nest prepared and ready, possibly more. You have been able to chose, lay claim to, and get to know your territory long before returning migrants. Combining all this, with your mate already with you on territory you should be able to lay sooner, earlier, and produce your young sooner. You have a lot of built-in advantages by being a year-round resident, but there are also big risks involved in staying on territory in cold, snowy climes all winter long. When you win, you can win big. When you lose... everyone just forgets about you.

The past 48-72 hours have been exciting and important for Buzz and Belle, and for lots of other Redtails. Sunday Belle brought a stick into the nest, and Buzz brought a small “accent” stick and later some greens. Both were in the nest multiple times. We’ve not seen Belle in the nest much at all until recent days.

Monday noon Mark Resendes had three Redtails around the Radio Antenna (transmission tower). He thought they were Buzz and Belle, but who was the third hawk? Mark left and I arrived to find NO Redtails there.

Suddenly, I had a high Redtail gliding NW from the SE, well above the RA. Gliding tight, looking almost like an accipiter, really tucked. Then a second Redtail gliding along the same path, but somewhat higher. The first bird, closer, was obviously smaller than the higher, more distant second bird. Buzz and Belle? They passed high over the RA and drifted north over Danehy. However, than a third Redtail on the same glide path, staying higher. Slid north over Danehy, following the other two. Then two more Redtails soaring even higher to the ESE, where the first three had come from.

Clearly two males and two females, but I could not get a good impression of size on the third bird, and at times had a tough time separating all five as I tried to photograph them. But while being shocked at the sight of 5 Redtails, I called Mark. Suddenly the first Redtail, a male who I presumed to be Buzz, started batting the air just above the other side of Bay State Rd., flying directly towards me at tree level. A second, larger bird followed. Then a third, though they were not batting the air. They were gliding S and then E and then all three started soaring NE of Field St. Then the fourth and fifth Redtail soared above them, obviously a male and female. Five Redtails soaring in one large column. Pretty distant. Then the two top birds drifted high ESE, disappearing, while one Redtail started a fairly steep glide SW towards the RA. Large. She landed on the RA, and I had the feeling it was Belle. Landed at exactly the same spot that we have had her the past several days. On the cross bar by the upper lights. A second Redtail took the same glide path. It landed on the back of the first Redtail and copulated about a 4-5 count, as I hurriedly tried to capture it on a camera sensor. I did get it, but the lighting was so poor you could not prove they weren’t two Black Hawks.

The third Redtail in the first stream stayed soaring ENE of the RA, and drifted away in that direction. The male hoped off and flew west, towards 185. The female definitely looking like Belle remained for a few seconds and then followed the same powered flight path of the first. The sky was empty by about 1:20. 1:25 at the latest. I saw nothing. I drove over to the mall, checking the nests, the dumpsters, Legoland (603 Concord Ave.) Social Security, Raytheon, HL (Honey locust), etc., and the trees along Concord. Not a Redtail in sight. I left.

But Sydney Fingold was out and looking, and saw what she thought was Buzz in the nest from 2:110 to 2:25. When she returned at 3:15, Buzz was in the nest until 3:30, when he flew into the mall. Kathy Duffy had him in the nest for about half an hour, around 3:30, before he flew into the mall, apparently to hunt. About 4:30, Amy Kipp found Buzz in the nest. Buzz then few to the CVS sign, where he began defeathering what appeared to be a pigeon. After a while he took the prey, began calling and looking around, apparently to deliver it to Belle. Then both birds appeared in the nest. Shortly thereafter Belle apparently took the prey back to Fawcett Street where she ate it in the familiar honey locust tree. Buzz flew back in that general area as well, according to Mark, who spotted an adult Peregrine near the B&M tracks on the east side, where he no doubt had been seeing all this, but the Peregrine passed south without harassing the Redtails at all. But then Amy spotted three Redtails soaring behind 185. They were soaring fairly close together and she saw one of them appear to hit or bump another in the air. All three disappeared to the south, but shortly Buzz was seen on Raytheon. He’s believed to have been one of the three in the air, and apparently had escorted or driven off a pair of intruders, possibly the Huron pair?

Yesterday with the patches of blue sky, thermals, and wind with intense sunlight and fairly warm temps was ideal for Redtails to do whatever they wanted.

Today was somewhat similar. Buzz was in the nest multiple times. Susan Moses had Buzz and Belle perching again in the honey locust, which was one of their favorite copulation sites last spring. Today she saw Buzz catch a rat and eventually deliver a sizable portion of it to Belle on the CVS sign. She took it back to the woods of Fresh Pond Reservation. Around 12:45, Mark Resendes saw Buzz soaring over 185 and then head into Fresh Pond Reservation, where he found and mounted Belle in a sycamore tree. Copulation at least twice in 24 hours. Probably more often than that. Two large food deliveries to Belle in 24 hours. Multiple copulations. We did not see this type of intense courtship behavior earlier this month. Fifteen minutes later Buzz returned to the nest for a little touch-up work, and he did it again less than fifteen minutes later. Everything is becoming more intense. Not as early as Buzz and Ruby in the previous two years, but this might be do to the tough winter weather and challenges of finding adequate prey.

But it wasn’t just Buzz and Belle. Hildy Martus called me from Rock Meadow in Belmont where she and a friend were watching eight (8!) Redtails soaring and keering together. Possibly some courtship but more likely establishing boundaries in and around a very attractive piece of property for nesting Redtails, and there was a deer carcass in the meadow as well!

Several hours later I was at the Mystic Lakes, just missing an adult Bald Eagle on what I think was aerial territory patrol. Had two adult Redtails soaring when the sun broke through a heavy overcast; male and female. They worked up and down the eastern shore of the lower lake. A third Redtail rose out of the woods and joined the other two in a loose thermal. That turned out to be a juvenile, likely female. They disappeared east briefly, when two additional Redtails rose out of the woods on the western shore and drifted over the parking lot on the east side. 5 Redtails in a fairly small area! The eastern pair glided south along the eastern shore, and the western pair drifted back west. A day or two earlier I had had a male come from the west and do a territorial display flight over the boat club. The two pairs obviously know each other and were quietly establishing and testing boundaries for the nesting season. What was the juvenile doing up with them? Your guess is as good as mine.

Whatever, a lot of Redtails had very good – or at least very exciting – days yesterday and today. It’s intense activity for Buzz and Belle, and for a lot of other local, territorial Redtails. Susan has also seen a Harvard Square pair of Redtails establishing a new nest.

March. THE month for Red-tailed Hawks. Real, wonderful March madness. Redtail madness.

I've posted about a dozen photos from the past several days on my Flickr page at

To see the full captions (rather than just the titles), you need to click on the photos and view them in a controlled slide show fashion.



Paul M. Roberts

Medford, MA


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