Above the nest: A closer glimpse at the home of Holyoke’s downtown Red-tails

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

The new nest site Holyoke’s downtown Red-tailed Hawks chose this year is a little more secluded — and further from a busy intersection — than the fire escape where they made their home last year. It’s a less harrowing place, I hope, for a young hawk to learn to fly.

It’s also on a building owned by a friend, and this morning we went to an upper floor before dawn with the hope of getting a count of the number of eggs the hawks are incubating.

The goal here was to observe as unobtrusively as possible, so we started two floors above and several windows away from the spot directly above the nest. The photo above was shot with a long lens from this fourth-floor location, well before sunrise — the hawks happened to build their nest right below an external light.

One thing I hadn’t realized from the ground: there’s a ledge that runs along each row of windows. Two floors up meant two ledges (one with a set of hooks protruding even further from the side of the building) to try to shoot around.

From the third floor — again, several windows away from the position directly above the nest, to avoid disturbing the bird — the line of sight wasn’t any better. Trying to get a view of the nest meant having both my head and shoulders out of the window, which was more invasive than I wanted to be.

The hawks thought so, too: within moments, I heard feathers above me and looked up to find the second hawk circling not-so-high overhead. Even after closing the window the hawk hovered outside, watching me. It only took one talon-first swoop toward the building to tell me we’d overstayed our welcome.

In a city, it’s easy to imagine that the birds you find are merely visitors in the human world. But the same rules of observing wildlife you’d follow in the deep woods also applies to an urban setting: you’re a visitor in their world, and you have to respect their space. Seeing that the hawks were uncomfortable with our presence, it was an easy decision to call short what I’d hoped would be a much longer observation.

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1 comment
  1. Sarah Etelman said:

    Very cool picture and story!

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