Birds of Prey– What’s the Hurry?

We most often think as the spring months as being the nesting season for birds.  And it is, for the Cardinals, Sparrows, Robins, Finches and such.  But not for the raptors, birds of prey.  Young raptors, because they are much larger, take a much longer time to grow up and need a head start on the season. So raptors nest in winter.

Remember the images of the nesting Eagles dutifully tending their nest and eggs covered over in the snow?  It takes very dedicated parents to go thru an ordeal like that.  Why the rush?  Why start nesting so early before the weather has changed for the better, we wonder?  Most other birds wait until April or later to arrive at their summer breeding grounds and start to build nests.

Turns out, there’s a very good reason.  It’s all about rodent and other prey animal population control and giving the baby birds of prey an easier start in life.  It takes a long time for large raptors to grow big enough to be independent and hunt on their own.  An early start in the nest allows them the required time to grow and develop, while also insuring that when they are fledged and on their own, there will be a plentiful supply of prey animal babies emerging from their nests and running about at the same time to help make the raptors’ initial hunting forays a little easier and more successful.  Nevertheless, 60% to 70% of Red-tailed Hawks, Owls and other raptors do not survive their first year.  Life is hard for young raptors still trying to figure it out, so being ready early gives them the best chance of survival, while also helping to keep the world from being overrun by mice and other voles.

So while the other birds and small animals are just getting started with nest building and babies now, the raptors are already well on their way to being able to greet them when they emerge later.  The early bird gets the, ummm– baby mouse shall we say.  Birds of Prey have a very important role to play in population control and the grand scheme of things as Mother Nature designed, and early nesting gives them the needed head start to make it all work.

Thanks as always for dropping in to visit! — Jim (and Red!)

Red-tailed Hawk with Mouse

Red-tailed Hawk with Mouse

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