On a cold February day this past winter, a raspy scream sliced the clear crisp air above my home. Instantly, I recognized the sound and, looking up, witnessed the majestic sight of a hawk some 200 feet above. My resident red-shouldered hawk had returned, and thus another season with this magnificent bird of prey had begun.
Every year since the day I bought the property, a pair of red-shouldered hawks have appeared in mid-February and stayed until late September. This year, a pair built a nest only 150 feet from my deck, and I've had many golden opportunities to observe them.
There are a few cases where red-shouldered hawks have nested close to homes. One pair in New Haven County made news for attacking urban residents while defending their nest; the male was trapped by the DEP and held in captivity through the breeding season.
Fortunately, the pair in my back yard are very much at ease with me. The hawks have been active ever since their arrival. During February they spent much of their time circling high above my woodlot, but as the winter slowly lost its icy grip, the pair began to frequent my oak trees.
They became more vocal in March and wasted no time beginning courtship behavior. The male would often chase the female through the woodlot. Sometimes they would perch together, with the male always wanting to get a little closer. There were spectacular aerial displays, too.
On several occasions, I witnessed the male ascend, spiraling ever higher on some unseen thermal, until nearly out of sight. At some point, before escaping earthly domain, he willed himself to return home and, by folding his impressive wingspan, dropped back to earth, avoiding instant death by extending his wings at the last possible moment. Upon his safe landing, the female, having seen the display would fly toward him and allow him to get much closer.
By the end of the month the male had secured his desire. It was at that time I noticed him flying with spruce branches to a large oak not far from the house. On April 5 the nest seemed complete, and I could see the female's head peering over the rim.
They remained vocal through April. During May everything quieted down, and as the leaves appeared I lost my view from the deck. I had to walk into the woods to observe the parents bringing their young small rodents, snakes and frogs. By mid June the fledglings had left the nest and were being fed by the parents further from the house.
On July 15 the young emerged from the woodlot as juveniles, awkward and ungainly, eager for complete independence. They perched on the deck while the parents watched with caution from a tall oak. What began on a cold February day had come to fruition, and the future generation was now ensured.
Robert Tougias is a local birding author, who is available for presentations and tours. He can be reached at email@example.com.