First Ridgway's Hawk Chicks of the Season Hatch
Marta Curti— 15 April 2011 — in West Indies Project Share
A cacophony of sounds surround me: the rhythmic hymns that float from open church doors, the braying of donkeys, the clop, clop, clop of horses trotting down the cobblestone street, the screaming laughter of children, the roar of motorcycles, the occasional Michael Jackson tune blaring from someone’s home, and finally, the high whistle of a Ridgway’s Hawk as it flies into view. This particular Ridgway’s Hawk is the adult male from the “Titico” pair which is nesting in a high palm tree just inside the town of Los Limones in the Dominican Republic. The town itself is small, with houses built of wood and palm, where roosters, dogs and goats roam with equal abandon.Here, the people are friendly and welcoming, greeting you with a “buenos dias” or an “hola” or a silent, cheery wave. Vendors young and old walk the streets selling sweets: coconut bread or toasted sugary peanuts something akin to peanut brittle, and men carrying machetes and wearing gum boots walk to their “conucos” (fields) to plant and harvest corn, squash, yucca, bananas, and many other delicious foods. Sour oranges grow everywhere in the forest and make for a delicious treat after hours of hiking beneath a hot sun. The town of Los Limones, just outside of Los Haitises National Park where the largest concentration of this species is found, is where we are stationed for the next few months as we survey for nesting pairs of Ridgways Hawks.To date this year, we have found about 35 pairs and all but two seem to be in some stage of nesting.
While my co-workers Thomas and Alberto are working in another part of the country for about a week, Julio, Nohine, Chivero, and I are monitoring the nesting pairs in and around the park. It was a great day on March 3rd, when Julio and Chivero came back to the cabin with exciting news. The Titico pair had hatched young – the first chicks of the season!!
The very next evening, Julio and I went back to the nest to observe. The large palm fronds blocked some of our view, but the nice breeze that offers relief from the tropical Caribbean heat, also served to move the branches so we could occasionally get a clear view of the nest. A short while after we arrived, the male flew in carrying prey – a small lizard that he clutched in his talons. He brought it directly to the female who was in the nest. She grabbed it with her beak and began to tear off small pieces of prey, which she fed to two fluffy white chicks that begged for scraps at her feet.
These were the first Ridgway’s Hawks chicks I had ever seen and it was thrilling to watch! This species, endemic to the Dominican Republic, is one of the most highly endangered raptors in the world. Seeing a pair with young brings a feeling of great hope, but also some trepidation. These birds have a lot going against them – deforestation, parasites, loss of appropriate nesting sites, and of course,the all-too-present threat of being killed by locals who fear that this species will prey on their chickens.
Though the location of the Titico pair’s nest site – off of the main road and visible to anyone who passes by – can put them at risk by making them easy targets for anyone who may want to harm them, it is also the perfect location for an educational opportunity, allowing us to show people the birds and generate even more excitement and interest in these raptors. So, almost every afternoon one or all of us head out to observe the nest and invite anyone passing by to look through the scope and watch the birds in action. Many days we have groups of 10 or 15 people coming out to watch the “gavilan” (the local name for this raptor). We answer any questions they may have and talk about the importance of these birds and why they should be protected.
After watching for a few hours , the sun began to set and the sky grew dark.The male, female and two young had fed and were settled in for the night. So we packed up our scopes, binoculars and tripods and waved goodbye to the dispersing crowd. We walked back home feeling good about the day. We do not know what tomorrow will bring, but for now, for today, this pair and its young are safe.*
*As of the posting of this Notes from the Field, the Titico chicks have both fledged successfully and continue to do well.
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