Wildlife’s calendar follows Mother Nature’s lead

This winter was extraordinarily mild. After the freak October nor’easter, our snowfall was almost unmeasurable, resulting in all sorts of affects on different flora and fauna.

For some, the mild winter was a real life-saver. For example, this was the year that the different oak varieties simultaneously took a break from acorn production. Under normal weather conditions (meaning snowfall in New England) this would lead to massive die-offs in populations dependent on acorns (i.e., deer and squirrels) and the predators that prey on them. This winter’s mild weather and lack of snow kept other food sources accessible.

However, the mild weather also triggered early spring cycles–too early? We can see this in our honey bees. In the autumn, the hive population changes–drones are evicted, the queen’s egg-laying slows, and longer-lived winter bees whose sole job is tending the hive emerge. Warm weather triggers egg production, which requires lots of stored honey and pollen. If the stores are used up before a new food source arrives, the hive starves. This winter, three of our four hives wintered well, but the fourth is so light I could easily pick it up.

Sweet red-tailed hawk fledgling. She flew a little unsteadily, but her landing ability was questionable. She then cried for her parents. They must have been near, because the crows decided not to hang around!

Here’s another result of the mild winter: the April 3 appearance of a newly-fledged red-tailed hawk. She flew a little unsteadily, but her landing ability was questionable. She then cried for her parents. They must have been near, because the crows decided not to hang around!

According to the Connecticut Wildlife website, red-tailed hawks usually begin fledging in mid- to late-May, meaning this chick’s egg was laid more than a month ahead of schedule!

In New England red-tailed hawks breed beginning in about March. A male and female pair will perfom aerial acrobatics as a form of courtship. The two hawks mate for life, although if one dies the other will seek another mate. They use the same nesting areas for years. They can build new nests out of sticks or repair existing ones, and prefer to nest high, around 50 or 60 feet above the ground, in tall trees or on cliffs. 1 to 4 eggs are laid in late March or April. The male will do some of the incubation, but mostly feeds the female while she sits on the nest. Both care for the chicks which hatch out after about 33 days. The baby hawks can fly in 43 to 48 days. Their parents teach them hunting skills and they become independent after about 2 months. The lifespan of red-tailed hawls is about 13 to 20 years in the wild.

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