Three Fledglings Fly, One To Go At Cornell Hawks Nest

Cornell’s Red-tailed Hawk pair has been remarkably consistent, raising three chicks each nesting season for the past decade. But this year the hawks revealed something unexpected—a fourth egg—when Big Red lifted off her clutch one peaceful afternoon in late March. 

After hatching in late April, the chicks spent their first two weeks in a huddle of downy white, emitting high-pitched whistles and fluttering their wings as Big Red and Arthur took turns delivering food. They grew rapidly. By the end of their second week their feet and legs had reached full growth, allowing them to awkwardly test out their walking skills by ambling around the nest. As the chicks found their footing, they also began to stretch and shuffle their wings, showcasing the rusty juvenile feathers poking through natal down. 

Fledling L2 returns home, perching on the nest railing after a meal.

From week four onwards, independence and muscle development were prioritized in preparation for fledge. The chicks started to pick apart (or “unzip”) prey on their own, and tentatively explored the edge of the nest. To strengthen the muscles in their wings, they ‘wingercised,’ or tried brief sessions of stationary flapping.

As the chicks neared fledge, questions arose about if and how the additional chick would alter fledge timing. Reviewing the patterns of previous years, it takes three chicks an average of 46.5 days to fledge after hatching (82.5 after the first egg was laid)—but another mouth to feed may shift the nest’s dynamic and prolong the average fledge date.  

Eager to see how this new variable would come into play, cam viewers scanned the live feed for indications that fledge may be on the horizon. Fans observed notable shifts in the adults’ behavior—such as leaving the nest at night and dropping food nearby—that might entice them to take the leap. Back at the nest, the chicks continued to build their flight muscles, pumping their wings as they hopped onto ledges at the outskirts of the nest. Curiosity pulled them towards the world beyond: fledge was imminent.

After days of anticipation, the moment arrived on June 8 when L2 became the first nestling to take to the skies over Cornell University’s campus, swiftly launching off the edge of the nest at 5:22 A.M. to embark on its first flight across the street to Rice Hall. L1 was close to follow, fledging to a nearby tree at 9:26 A.M. on June 9. The nest was quiet for a few days as L3 geared up for its inaugural flight, spending some time on the nest railing before taking off on June 13 at 11:29 A.M. Now only one nestling remains to fly: the unprecedented L4.

Comparing fledge times from 2012-2022, including the three fledges of the current season.

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