May 31, 2012

Our Nest is Blessed

Holidays often mean a trip past the house for us. Our broker is really great about arranging things for us that way so that we can sit at home during the down time instead of out on the road somewhere. So, this past weekend we took a load of potatoes from Idaho to North Dakota, stopping at home for the Memorial Day weekend.

There's a few things to share about that little break, but this post is just about one special thing, or rather two.

Do you remember our last pass by the house, the one where I found Gemma on the neighbors land and had to rescue her? It was just a couple of weeks ago. You might also remember I discovered that while visiting the horses I was under surveillance,...
...and soon discovered the reason why.

While we were home this past weekend, Malcolm and I got in the jeep and went out into the pasture to see how things were progressing.

The nest is on the tip of a hill. It's not a large hill, but it gets steeper the closer to the top you get. Steeper and more prickly.
This is a massive nest. It is around perhaps three feet in diameter, and close to a foot and a half or so tall. When we were visiting a couple weeks ago, there were 3-4 white eggs with brown speckles. We were delighted to find that during our absence, our nest was blessed with two babies who appear to be doing very well.
Judging by their size and the fact that they are feathered and have open eyes, I'd say they probably hatched shortly after we found the nest. We didn't stay long. Mom and Dad were pretty distressed that we had invited ourselves up. But I just had to see the chicks and get some pictures.
If you look under the wing of the chick on the right, can you see the #3 chick? I'm not sure what's going on, if it's a late hatcher, or another bird like a cow bird or someone smuggled in their egg. Surely hawks wouldn't tolerate that?!? Regardless of what or who it is, it's only the size of a small chicken chick, mostly naked, and eyes still closed. It was barely moving, and seemed pretty weak.

And then there's egg #4.
Dud? Or another late comer? I'm not sure.

I feel pretty confident in pointing out, though, that chick's #1 and 2 are obviously going to dominate the parental attention. I think 3 and 4 are doomed. 

I've been working on identifying what species of hawk these are. I only ever get to see the parent's from beneath as they take flight as soon as they see us, even from a great distance. But based on what we have seen of the parents, the nest structure and location, and the egg, which helped a lot, even though I'm sad it didn't hatch, Malcolm and I think these are Ferruginous Hawks. If you know differently, I'd love to hear from you!

Maybe I can get a closer look at the parents when we're home in a couple weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing how much the chicks have grown too. And this time I'll remember to take binoculars out with us.

If they are Ferruginous Hawks, then it is extra exciting to have this nest! Ferruginous hawks are the largest hawks in North America. They are also a "species of concern" in Montana. They build nests that outrank even eagles nests in size. Because the nest is on the ground, these chicks are in great danger of being discovered by coyotes or other predators, which makes me worry. The Ferruginous hawks have a life span of about 20 years, but I read on one sight that most don't live much past the age of 5 or 6 years, and chicks have a 60% mortality rate. That's all very depressing. On a happier note, during breeding and chick raising season, they feed almost exclusively on prairie dogs, of which we have an abundance! So the surplus in food should help ensure their survival, and maybe as an extra return, they'll thin the prairie dog pack a little!  No one would be complaining about that. Well, maybe the prairie dogs will, but their opinion quit counting a long time ago.

I'm so thrilled these young ones have joined us! And I feel so blessed to have been provided with the opportunity to see them and their parents. This particular species of hawk are non-migratory and tend to use the same nesting area, sometimes even the same nest. I hope we'll have the honor of hosting their young ones for many years to come.

Another website, in case your a bird fanatic like me. I love this website. It's rich in information, and they have recordings of the birds different calls so you can hear them to help with identification.

There's a couple other things to share about the weekend, but that will have to wait for the next post. This one had to be exclusively for our babies!


Shirley said...

That is way cool! Pretty good photos of the li'l rascals. I sure hope they make it. With plenty of prairie dogs (we call 'em gophers)around the coyotes would be well fed too, maybe they won't find the nest.

thecrazysheeplady said...

Oh, you lucky dog!!!

Loved catching up with your blog. Finally. Beautiful scenery. Your niece is a doll baby!

Dreaming said...

I love your babies. How very interesting about the interloper(s). I'm glad you were able to be home for the weekend.

Charade said...

Wow, that's as special as discovering an old medicine wheel. How nice you were able to get those photos without being attacked by the parents.

Elizabeth Martin said...

This is sooooo cool!!! I hope you have more posts about them and watch them grow!!

small farm girl said...

Wow! That is soooo cool!!! I hope they live. Nice tease about other things that happened. lol

MTWaggin said...

How totally freaking COOL! I'm beyond jealous and can't wait to see the photos you get as teh babies grow and as you get home now and then!