ORNITHOLOGY | Monte Travis
From my ninth floor office near Lafayette Park, I’ve been watching a pair of red-tailed hawks engage in aerial courtship flights since early this year.
In late March I saw the hawks carrying sticks to a large nest high in a eucalyptus tree in the park, undertaking a little remodeling. A few days later, I observed one of the hawks poking its head above the rim of the nest. This suggested at least one egg and probably more had been laid in the nest. If all goes well, we should have chicks in about a month.
As I was photographing the female hawk on the nest, I was alerted by the screams of about 20 red-masked parakeets — the famous parrots of Telegraph Hill — who suddenly bolted into the air from the treetops directly overhead. I looked up, and there came the male redtail swooping in from the west. When the male arrived at the nest, the female, who is larger, rose up, and for a short time both stood on the nest (above). Then the female took off and the male settled in for his shift.
Redtails are monogamous and generally mate for life. But later that same day, I witnessed a mystery: three adult birds on the nest (below). For 45 minutes, all three alternately flew to and from the nest. A menage a trois, perhaps? Or maybe redtails, like certain other species, sometimes employ one of their young from the prior year as a helper. This will bear watching in the coming days.
It’s a domestic ornithological mystery. But it seems appropriate for San Francisco: an alternative avian family.