Presidio of San Francisco (July 28, 2009) -- On its first day out of its nest, a young, red-tailed hawk soars gracefully between the eucalyptus and the clouds, as if performing an aerial ballet high above the Presidio. The young hawk is one of nearly 50 raptors to have "fledged" from nests throughout the Presidio over the last several weeks, revealing a robust and thriving raptor population.
"This shows the raptor population at the Presidio is quite healthy," says Peter Ehrlich, forester for the Presidio Trust. "Our reforestation program has been good for the raptors. The population has gotten stronger as we've opened up habitat for hunting."
Ehrlich says the Presidio's raptors are "very cosmopolitan" and don't seem to be bothered by people. The raptors perform a valuable service in the park, providing a natural and environmentally friendly form of rodent control. The hawks feed mainly on gophers and play a significant role in keeping the population in check. The owls are far less picky eaters feeding not only on gophers but mice, rats and even skunks as well (like all birds, owls have a very poor sense of smell).
The hawks also bring something far more aesthetic to the Presidio€”the captivating grace with which they fly.
"The red-tailed hawks are the most beautiful flyers in the Presidio," says Ehrlich. "They are majestic and regal birds. In February and March, when they're courting or even when they're just soaring over the headlands, they are so beautiful and graceful. They're mesmerizing."
According to the Trust and the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, a total of 48 raptors fledged from two dozen nests including:
19 Red-shouldered hawks fledged from 12 nests12 Red-tailed hawks fledged from 6 nests12 Great-horned owls fledged from 4 nests5 Cooper's hawks fledged from 2 nests
"I think the numbers were higher than any of us expected," said Allen Fish who has directed the Raptor Observatory since its founding in 1985.
The young birds "fledge," or leave the nest for the first time, when they're about eight to ten weeks old. Most wander out onto braches and limbs on their own, though some have to be coaxed.
"We've seen adult red-tailed hawks holding prey out for their young," says Fish, "with the fledglings flying after them to get it."
The fledglings will be dependent on their parents for food for several more months, while they learn how to hunt. They'll be dispersed from the nest€”an avian version of going off to college€”in the fall.
The Presidio Trust was established by the United States Congress in 1996 to oversee the Presidio of San Francisco, an urban national park located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The 1,500-acre site contains expansive open space and spectacular views, a 300-acre historic forest, and rare and endangered plants and wildlife. It also comprises nearly 6 million square feet of buildings, including 469 historic structures that contribute to its status as a National Historic Landmark District. "