By Jennifer Baldwin, CSUB Public Affairs Coordinator
The first week of summer break, I walked out of the University Advancement office and saw two large birds of prey sitting on the lawn next to the pond. I'd never seen such a thing - what were they doing on the ground?
I ran into the office to grab the camera and zoom lens but they flew into a nearby pine tree. To get closer, I hiked around the pond and was able to pull off a few shots. I could make out the brown and white markings and black-tipped beaks similar to photos I found online of sharp-shinned hawks.
I sent an excited email with the photos to Marlene Benton, director of the Facility for Animal Care and Treatment (FACT) at CSUB. Turns out, I was wrong. According to her, the birds are actually red-shouldered hawks, offspring of a mating pair that had built their nest near the residence halls months ago.
Benton recently watched the hawks with me. She explained that as the birds are not yet mature enough to feed off larger prey, they find their food between the lawn and the pond: large insects, dragonflies, lizards and frogs. Eventually they will add fish and field mice to their diets. The many squirrels on campus, however, are too large for the hawks to eat.
Benton explained the best way to find the nest is by looking down at the ground rather than up in the trees. "You'll see bits of animal parts lying around that have fallen from the nest," she said. We walked around a couple of trees but didn't find anything.
A couple of days later I went back out by myself. I circled each tree until I came to a sycamore adjacent to the walking path toward the residence halls. That's when I saw what looked like a piece of a rodent's spine. I had found an animal part! A few inches away was a mandible with teeth and other small bones scattered about. I photographed each clue and then stepped back to find the nest. Sure enough, from the other side of the tree I spotted a great mass of brown sticks and leaves high up between two outer branches.
Now that they are close to maturity, the young birds don't spend much time in the nest, Benton had told me. When the time comes, the family will separate. It's rare for birds of prey to live close together, Benton said, and CSUB is lucky to also have a coopers hawk nest outside of the FACT building on the other side of campus. I hope one of the red-shouldered hawks stays behind, choosing our corner as its home - with the pond, nearby field and trees for food and shelter.
"This isn't actually a riparian habitat, which is their natural habitat," Benton said. "But it's a good substitute."
To see more photos of the hawks and their nest, visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/csubakersfield.
For more information:
Media ContactColleen Dillaway, Director of Public Affairs & Communications