Just in case anyone thought from my previous post that I’d abandoned BirdsasPoetry.com, rest assured all is well.
On yet another cold, windy morning we had ventured out to see if the young kites were in residence or if they had finally taken the hint and moved on to explore new areas.
We found them down the paddock about a Kilometre from the home tree, and all three actively engaged in the business of food production.
A little further investigation, and it seems like they have continued to use the home tree as a roosting area, for present. It appears that a line (invisible so to speak) has been drawn through the home territory, and they have access to the western side, and can hunt and roost freely. The eastern side, where Belle has a new nest in production, is a no-go zone and should they venture there they are quickly hunted away. So it means that unlike most clutches, they are still operating in the home territory, if somewhat tenuously.
Bronson it seems is not adverse to sneaking over the line, with a treat for them from time to time. But there is no doubt they are now self-sufficient
Here is a selection showing them in action.
I missed this one going down. It must have spotted the mouse and dove headfirst into the grasses, and I just couldn’t keep up with it. In a few seconds it lifted off with its prize
This is another one on full attack.
And here the two of them, with mouse in claw, arrived back on the home tree within seconds of each other.
I’ve been a bit remiss of late keeping the current nesting updated on the blog. I had decided that I’d just wait to make a single story rather than publish in installments.
Belle and Bronson had finished a clutch in early April, and the young were honing the last of their hunting skills, when it became obvious that the pair were planning a second clutch in the same nest. Normally after a clutch, the female takes a well earned break and may not be around for several weeks, and feeds herself, or sometimes moves on to another territory. So it was interesting to see them carrying sticks, Bronson feeding her and mating on a regular basis.
Then. The weather turned. I’m sure she didn’t plan for it, but the weather simply went from bad to dreadful. Rain. Wind. Hail. Gales. Some days all together.
EE and I were talking over the image selection for this set, and noted how few days of bright sunshine there had been and how much of the journey we had missed simply because it was too cold and dreadful to be out in the field.
Yet, to their credit, they persisted. The nest is exposed to the North. So any strong northerly winds, and there were whole days of that, really blasted onto the nesting site. It is a clever nest, among the young leaves and twigs at the end of a branch. It is built over a ‘Y’ at the end of the branch and a short dead stick in the centre of the “Y” takes the load bearing. But on a strong wind, the nest was lifted near vertically and must have been a wild ride for the brooding mother and eventually the hatched young.
Yet. To their credit, they persisted.
There are a few more photos than I’d normally publish and I’ve interspersed them through the text notes.
The first step in the process it seems is for the nest to be refurbished. Some internal material was removed, old feathers, dried leaves and some sticks. Perhaps it was soiled by the young before they could move about. Then a range of new sticks were added to build up the edges of the nest as the young had stood on the edges.
The next step was to top up Belle’s reserves. She will be on the nest and unable to catch for perhaps as long as 45 days. She will let him know when she is hungry.
It’s not often easy to get a glimpse of her on the nest, as she sits well down. This was a little later in the brooding and most likely the young were hatched and she was sitting over them rather than down on the eggs.
Hard to know at first how many are in the nest. For quite awhile we though we only saw two, so one might have been a few days behind the others. But once they get their bearings they are quick to want to see the world around them. It is often interesting to see those rich ginger colours, which at first seem to bright to hide them, but suprisingly (I jest) the grey, white and ginger are a perfect match for the nesting location.
Several days before they fly they move about the branches and twigs, a combination of clambering and jumping. This enterprising one had managed to get right out in the open to plead with Bronson for an extra helping.
Then the big day comes and they step out of the tree and into the air. Getting out is not so much a problem for them as working out how to slow down and stop well enough to land. The first few attempts usually are just dumping into the surrounding leaves—just as well they are soft. But in a day or so they can judge the speed and angle and make it on to the branches, albiet in a haphazard fashion
But the skills develop quickly, as you would expect, and within a few days they are highly manouverable little aeronauts. Wing strengh develops and long forays down the paddocks and out of sight become the norm.
Then begins the process of teaching them to take prey from the male. They take to this execise with great enthusiasm, very little skill, clumsiness and what can best be described as un-coordination. A hard time for the male as he gets buffetted about by the young who judge the speed, height and angle badly and barrell into him with no hope of making split second corrections. He seems to take all this in a stoic manner and I’ve seen him sometimes raise a little higher to match the upward speed, or drop lower with a long outstretched leg to place the mouse in the waiting claws. Other times he seems to be able to hold out the mouse and then slip away sideways to avoid a headon collision.
Eventually all the training comes to fruition and they become highly skilled at judging the parameters and can do it with a minimum of effort and few missed opportunities.
And now they are just bragging. The once unskilled can now make a bold one legged move.
This happened a long way out, and I’ve only got small shots of the entire sequence, but the young one secured the mouse, and somewhere between grasping it, and wanting to eat it in the air, of course it dropped the mouse. Bronson was on to it but as my Flickr site shows, a mouse free-falling is faster than a Kite. They are built for hovereing and do not have the speed of say, a Peregrine or Hobby, and the mouse tumbled to the ground. He was however right behind it, and I think this one was dead, as he quickly retrieved it, took it to a branch and the young one safely collected it.
Soon the colours will fade and they will be ready to face the world on their own. As Eleanor pointed out the orange colouring come from a chemical in the feathers, Porphyrin.
It seems the baby colours out of the nest don’t moult out, the rich copper tones fade out gradually over a few week. The brownish colour on young BSKs comes from Porphyrin, which fades in sunlight.
Eleanor says, “Porphyrin, which has been studied less than other pigments, as it doesn’t occur in large numbers of birds. It is found for example in the reddish-brown feathers of a juvenile Black-shouldered Kite. This fades after a few weeks, without the birds replacing the feathers, as it degrades in sunlight. It is also found in the brown and reddish spots on birds’ eggs.”
Porphyrin also emitts or fluoresces under UV light so the colouring would show up quite brightly for the birds, which may be an indication of individuals, or breeding potential. All just too fascinating.
And so through the sleet, the hail, the rain, the high winds and freezing cold they have matured enough to move on from the nest site. Here Bronson is sitting with them, a symbolic sort of image as they are now banned from the nesting area, as Belle is already preparing a new nest and by the time I publish this, no doubt she will have another clutch on the go.
We were travelling in the early. bright sunshine, on a very still, cold day. Our destination was a couple of paddocks to check for Flame Robins, and also a little further on to monitor the nesting progress of a pair of Black-shouldered Kites.
The narrow road is typical of farming communities with deep drains on either side and very little road shoulder, and while there was room to pass, there was no real room to park. We have been making this journey about once a week, and every so often perhaps twice a week to check on the progress of the Kites.
As we drove along the road, into the sunshine, a tree close to the fenceline, in the distance, looked to have three large bird sized shapes, and as it was a long way ahead we ran through the usual suspects, Ravens, Doves, Magpies, etc.
Then just as we approached, EE exclaimed, “They are juvenile Black-shouldered Kite.” With no where to stop other than the middle of the road, it was a bit precarious, so I moved up to a gateline and we walked back. Sure enough, three very handsome looking young kites. Where had they come from? Where they waiting to be fed? Wonder where the nest had been located? Now there are not too many trees suitable in the area, so it would be hard to pick one, and as we’d travelled that way a few times, and not seen any action in the area, it was even more a mystery.
After a lot of preening and wing stretching the answer to the question, “Are they waiting to be fed?” was answered as first one, then another lifted off with easy, flew out over the paddock and began to hover and drive down. These young kites had been on the wing for three or more weeks its seems.
We didn’t see a successful strike, but that was more to inexperience than anything and no doubt they were quietly confident of getting their own breakfast. After about an hour or so we moved on. The parents hadn’t been sighted and the young weren’t crying to be fed, so the best conclusion perhaps was they were now on their way out into the world on their own and were still travelling together for company.
It will be interesting to see if they are still in the area next time we visit.
How quickly time moves on for these young kites. A few weeks ago they were peeking out of the nest, then launched into flight on some of the most windy days we’ve had this year. And when we arrived on this particular morning they were now fully-fledged (pun intended) hunters.
Bronson, the male was no longer providing handouts. It was literally every bird for itself. They had chosen to sit together for what was probably the very last time in the early morning sun and scan the surrounding paddock for a likely meal. Most of their hunting as we watched was for skinks and small prey, but no doubt in the next day or two they would have skilled up enough for the real thing. Mice
Bronson flew past at one stage, perhaps checking they were still in the area, but they knew not to pester him for food and it was a silent flyover. They went back to the job in hand.
A couple of days later on our next visit, they were nowhere to be seen, all the usual roosting spots were empty. We caught a glimpse far across the freeway of one sitting, then hunting and flying off with its prize.
Their time had come to explore the world as fully developed young birds.
It is both a sad and also an exciting time to share their graduation and to farewell them.
After a pretty windy start the young Black-shouldered Kites have quickly advanced to developing both their hunting skill and their ground tactics. It might just me wanting to explain their process, but I think that the first few days on the wing in the very strong gale force winds gave them an advantage in learning the flying techniques. It is not unusual to see them leave the home tree and in a few wing flicks they are nearly a kilometre away down the paddock. So we miss all of the action happening from where we stand.
But, the other morning on what can only be described as “picture perfect”, they were working closer in and going through the paces of hovering and dropping out of the sky into the grass. Now, any mice there were pretty safe as they don’t quite have the skills to finalise the ‘catch’. However it won’t be long I suspect before they make the necesary connections and then they’ll be on the way to independance.