Mother’s Day in the life of a Holyoke hawk

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012 | Click to enlarge.

One of the great joys I’ve found over the past few months has been watching the family of Red-tailed Hawks nesting on the fire escape of an industrial building on Race Street in Holyoke.

I’d seen the adult hawks downtown plenty of times — and I’ve posted a number of pictures of them here — but I owe a hat tip to Holyoke police officer Jared Hamel for helping me locate the nest.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012 | Click to enlarge.

I met officer Hamel, a member of the police department’s narcotics unit, on the night of the devastating fire that destroyed the historic mill of American Writing Paper’s Mt. Tom Division. It was around midnight and I was shooting photos for my day job; we started chatting and somehow the conversation turned to birds in the city. I mentioned the hawks and wondered out loud where they lived.

“They’re on the fire escape,” Hamel told me, referring to one of the big empty buildings that line the canal.

Since then I’ve kept a close eye on the hawks’ habits, and on April 22 wildlife photographer and veterinarian Linda Henderson posted a simple comment here on the blog: “Redtails hatched.”

A week or so later photographer Don Cooper sent me an update, writing that the little hawks were growing fast, and that perhaps they’d hatched even earlier than we thought.

On Sunday — Mother’s Day — I got my first look at them. I spotted two chicks, but only managed to photograph one that sat high on the nest.

I was joined by two other birders who spotted me conspicuously staring up at the building; they’d made a special trip over to Race Street to look for the hawks, and I was happy to have the company as we watched the little one stand up now and then to tentatively stretch its short, fluffy wings.

The nestling period for Red-tails is 42-46 days, according to Cornell’s All About Birds. If they hatched around April 20, we may see them ready to take flight the first week of June.

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