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The RAPTOR BLOG has moved! 

Come visit its new home at


(Click on the bold letters above to fledge there!)


If you're a new visitor to the blog, you may like to read the 'archives' here first, then hop on over to the new nest to catch the latest! 


Welcome to the RAPTOR BLOG archives of 2020!

The images below are from Northwest DC's Klingle Valley Trail, in Rock Creek Park, and the Connecticut Avenue Bridge. A Red-shouldered hawk family bore three hatchlings the week of April 20, 2020, in a Sycamore tree nest several yards from the bridge railing. The young raptors have brought much joy to the community, an unexpected diversion amidst a world pandemic. This blog attempts to share their story, with the hope that you will appreciate and protect wildlife in any way you can.


My new book, "ENRAPTURED BY RAPTORS" is available at Amazon, B&N, and indie booksellers! All proceeds to benefit Owl Moon Raptor Center. Click on photo below to purchase.

JULY 8, 2020 - Hawk Sighting & Walk Down Memory Lane

Yesterday I got a call of a hawk sighting along the Klingle Valley Trail, about six lamp posts south of the bridge. I quickly donned my bike helmet, mask, and grabbed my camera backpack. I flew up the trail, passed the bridge, and counted the lamp posts to find our feathered friend on a low branch. Judging by its plumage, this is likely Libby, the mother hawk.  

I really wish our feathered friend was so generous to appear last week when my friend Amy and I offered a little 'hawk walking tour' to our DC neighbors, Richard and Catherine. I admit, there was trepidation in offering such an outing as hawk sightings are irregular at this stage of their progression:  learning to hunt and stretching their wings to discover their habitat. They have little time to entertain us these days, albeit for the impromptu arias offered by our Dorothy (see June 27 blog post). However, the four of us eagerly met by the bridge to see what we could see! Much like a ghost tour, we pointed out the hawk's empty nest, the bare twisty branch, and shared fledgling memories. Our friends, wearing binoculars with nothing to see that day, were happy to learn more and hear our colorful stories nonetheless.  On this walking tour of 'memories' we answered a number of their thoughtful questions (as best we could, and some I have since researched) which may be of interest to hawk fans:

Q: How many eggs do red-shouldered hawks have?

A: Typically 2-3, sometimes 4. 

Q: Do they migrate?

A:  The Red-shouldered Hawk is one of 26 North American raptor species that are partial migrants. In the East, individuals from the northern half of the species’ range are migratory. In the West, most populations are sedentary. In the Mid-Atlantic region, where our hawk family resides, they are year-round inhabitants.  

Q: Are they affected by climate change? 

A: Yes. In areas where there are wildfires (mainly the West) habitats are incinerated, and if they burn repeatedly, prevent them from recovering. Spring heatwaves, which are evident in many areas of the US, can endanger young in the nest. In lower Florida and parts of Mexico, where temperatures have risen steadily for years, raptor populations have nearly diminished. Additionally, urbanization, while not specifically climate-related, causes deforestation which eliminates their habitat (and is currently their largest threat).

Q: What is their lifespan?

A:  For those that survive their first year, Red-shouldered hawks can live to be 15-19 years old in the wild, with one report of a 26-year-old hawk! 

Thanks to Richard and Catherine for a lovely walk down memory lane, and for those of you who continue to read this blog with interest in wildlife.   The more we learn, the more we care.  :-) 

JUNE 27, 2020 — Dorothy's Ode to Maria Callas

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I wasn't sure who Maria Callas was when my good friend Amy mentioned her the other day as she compared her to Dorothy. I immediately scrambled to YouTube to see who she was talking about. Callas was an American born Greek opera soprano (1923-77), and one of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century! Go Dorothy! Who wouldn't want to be compared to Maria Callas? 

This morning I was cycling across the bridge whenI heard that unmistakable cri de coeur (passionate outcry). It was Dorothy on the twisty branch, calling to her brother on the other side of the bridge. And it was passionate alright. Four acts of an opera about food!  I then crossed to the other side of the bridge to find her juvenile brother eating brunch on a branch, pausing between bites to call back to sis. "BRAVA!" he cries. "

Dorothy takes a bow, tucking her head into her feathery plumage. 

Dorothy's brother, pausing between morsels.

JUNE 25, 2020 — What's All The Ruckus About?

It seems there's a bit of a disturbance under the tree canopy. 

"Did you hear that screeching sound, Dan? It sounds like the hawks that left the nest and it doesn't sound right!"

"Go back to sleep, dear," says Dan. "They're just learning to hunt."

Not to worry, the neighborhood hawks are transitioning from fledglings to juveniles, becoming more independent by the day, and frequent communication is part of the growing process. One would think that they are scaring away all of their prey with those squawks! As it turns out, they may be experiencing growing pains of doing things on their own, so sounding off to their parents for morsels is only natural. The parents are around to watch and teach them skills, adding to the chorus of "kee-ahs." Eventually, they will get the hang of it, but it's still pretty new (Dorothy, the youngest, left the nest on June 2nd). 

A California study observed that young Red-shouldered hawks are successfully hunting by 7–8 weeks after they initially fledge (catching mostly insects), and by 10–13 weeks they were catching reptiles, amphibians, and mammals (Snyder, N. F. R. and J. W. Wiley. (1976).

Below is a little video shot this morning of one of the juveniles on a branch above the Klingle Valley Trail. 

JUNE 14, 2020 — She wears her heart out on her feathers

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Sunday afternoon I took a stroll to the bridge when I heard that familiar "kee-ah" cry.  I looked above the Klingle Valley Trail, and across the forest of sycamore trees following the sound.  And then I saw a flutter in the thick of the tree canopy when out flies a young juvenile making its way to the old naked branch where the parents, Walt and Libby, often sat to watch for prey while keeping an eye on their hatchlings in the nest.

"Could it be our Dorothy?" I said to myself, hoping so. 

The juvenile hopped up the branch, flapping its wings to maintain balance. Moments later I hear a second hawk in the distance and I look up to see its broad wings soaring in the blue sky. It was likely mom or dad checking in. The juvenile watches, too, calling back, then decides to lay down on the branch to take a rest. 

As folks cross the bridge they stop for a moment as I point out the brown lump on the naked branch.  "That's Dorothy," I say proudly to each passerby as if I was pointing out my daughter on the softball field to another parent. Then in a moment too fast for me to capture, the young raptor flies to a closer branch facing the bridge, and us.

Now at eye-level, there we were looking at each other. I knew that he or she was used to humans watching and I wondered if it recognized me. Many of us caught everything these feathery creatures did from dawn until dusk before they left the nest and became scarcer to see.

I pause for a moment without my camera to my eye to take in the entire scene: the warm sun on the bridge, the rustling tree leaves in the wind, folks hiking the trail below, a little girl on a bike breaking to see what I'm looking at.

The juvenile stood in a curious pose with one leg up and the other anchored on the branch. It wasn't until hours later, looking at the images on my computer, that I noticed the little hearts on its lower belly plumage. Appropriate, don't you think?  No doubt earned from all the love on the bridge. 

JUNE 11, 2020 — A Messsage from Owl Moon Raptor Center Director & President

Walt was a very lucky bird to have so many people watching and looking out for him. The fact that he was discovered so soon after he was entangled in the fishing line, and that we were able to find the good folks at Bartlett Tree Experts quickly, and they were able to respond promptly, are the key reasons why Walt’s rehabilitation went so well, and he was able to return home in time to rejoin his mate Libby to raise their young family successfully.

We see many incidents of fishing line (and other forms of) entanglement and many are not so lucky. People happen upon entangled barred owls, osprey, hawks, herons, geese and other critters along remote trails and while fishing or boating, and we have no idea how long they have been trapped and struggling (or given up the struggle) to free themselves. If they are lucky and survive, these cases typically require weeks or months to recover from the muscle, tendon, and ligament damage that result from entanglement.

Please make it your mission, while out on a hike or fishing along Rock Creek, C&O Canal towpath, or at the Bay, to remove what fishing line you find, and dispose of it responsibly. You will be saving the life of an innocent animal by doing so. Thank you!

And many thanks to Jennifer for helping us to raise funds for the care and rehabilitation of our magnificent avian neighbors who fall victim to human activities. Jenn, your images are amazing and you tell a wonderful story and we appreciate it!

Warmest regards,

Suzanne Shoemaker

Director and President

Owl Moon Raptor Center


You can also make a contribution directly to the center here:  https://owlmoon.org/home/donate

Walt, Libby and the young hatchlings — All lucky because of Owl Moon Raptor Center and many good Samaritans.

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The other day I was walking along Rock Creek near the Cleveland Park Bridge when suddenly something on the ground caught my eye.  It was some kind of plastic netting. I'm not sure of its origin, or if it was or wasn't wildlife-friendly netting, so to be safe I properly disposed of it before it could endanger anything. Now when I see something like this in nature I pick it up and think of Walt and how it nearly killed him and jeopardized his family.  Maybe I saved a life that day, or who knows, even an entire family. 

JUNE 9, 2020 — Thoughts on Beginning Birdwatching

My hand-carved wood bird collection I inherited from my parents (as well as birdwatching!)

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The other day, my new friend Dale (I have made many new bird enthusiast friends from the bridge!) asked me, "What do you recommend to a new birdwatcher?"  Dale is soon to retire and realized — while watching hawks grow from hatchlings to juveniles in the neighborhood — that he might have a new hobby for life's next chapter.

I told Dale about my trusty Roger Tory Peterson book, "A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies", which has been updated several times (mine is from 1980). I can't say enough about the Peterson guides. The illustrations are fantastic. When I was little I would try and copy them myself, spending hours on the floor with my tablet and colored pencils. The text gives clues for identification, such as special markings, phonetic sounding of  songs or calls, and of course habitat. Our hawks make a "kee-yer" sound, which many of us can now identify anywhere in nature.    We have little Dorothy to thank for this! 

Roger Tory Peterson believed that the key to solving environmental problems is to know the plants and animals and their complex interactions and understand our dependence upon them. 

“The philosophy that I have worked under most of my life is that the serious study of natural history is an activity which has far-reaching effects in every aspect of a person’s life. It ultimately makes people protective of the environment in a very committed way. It is my opinion that the study of natural history should be the primary avenue for creating environmentalists.”


Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide

My 2nd favorite guide that I must also mention is "National Geographic's Guide to Backyard Birds of North America." This is an excellent book with birds that extend well beyond your backyard. I like it because it embellishes with insight on conservation, what birds eat, and nesting habits. A good companion to the other guide.

The other item one needs, obviously, is a good pair of binoculars. Which to get?  Brand is a personal preference, but you should know that they come in various magnifications, such as 8 x 32, 7 x 40, 10 x 40, etc. The first number represents the POWER of the magnification, and the second number is the width of the light-gathering lens in millimeters ( the higher the number, the brighter the image). Nat Geo recommends 8 x 32 and 7 x 40 models are satisfactory, even for the most discriminating hawk watcher. 

If you've managed to read this far down the fold you must really love birds and so I recommend checking out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the preeminent birding resource. You can access tons of great news and articles on their general website, and for a modest membership fee you have access to volumes of bird information from ornithologists around the globe, and discounts on already reasonably priced online classes. No, I do not work for Nat Geo or Cornell. I just really believe that these simple resources can up your game if you want to delve into the magical world of birding. WARNING: Birdwatching is addictive! 

"Where to start?  There's so many birds", you say?

I recommend choosing one species to begin with, such as the Woodpecker, for example.  Our Nation's capital has seven native woodpeckers all of whom, with the exception of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, live here year-round. They are: Pileated Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Begin by looking and listening for these rat-a-tat-tat birds and learn how to distinguish between families. As your skills develop you will surely impress your friends and family by rattling off your knowledge of Sapsuckers and their migrating habits.

I always say, the more you know, the more you want to know.

JUNE 4, 2020 — Empty Nest

Folks have been a little sad the last couple days after Dorothy's fledge.  She was the last to disembark, a few days after Covid and Cleveland were out the door. The nest, once fluttering with down-covered chicks and hovering attentive parents, is empty. The bridge, too, seems fairly sparse.

"End of an era," says my friend Robin.

"Are they all gone for good?" asks a mother with her young son. 

The juveniles have embarked on a new chapter, but they aren't going far anytime soon. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, parents provide all vertebrate food for the first three weeks after fledging and may help supplement their youngsters’ diets for eight weeks or more while the young learn to hunt on their own.

So, dear hawk watchers, while the nest may be empty, take a good look on either side. Bare branches are favorite perching spots, and you'll often hear mom or dad calling to them for supper.  They may go to them with a treat, or entice them back in the nest or elsewhere with food to help them practice their flying skills.  Additionally, learning to hunt takes time so we will have many more weeks to witness their growth and development.  I hope this news brightens your day!

Cleveland (I think!) waits for word from his parents on where to meet them for breakfast.

Daddy Walt captured a frog to take to the nest but not before enjoying a little for himself. A passing bird flies by several times to discourage hawk visitors near its habitat.

The nest is empty when Walt lands with the frog. One of the juveniles swoops in for a bite. Dad hands the frog over in his talon.


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Maiden Voyage to Tree

We knew it was about to happen any day, if not this very day. Dorothy, the youngest nestling of the Cleveland Park Bridge hawk family, fledged the nest today.

“I felt she was ready,” says Sherree M. from Woodley Park. “She was out on that branch for a long time.”

Several eyewitnesses reported seeing Dorothy on an extended branch beyond the nest beginning on Monday. A little before noon, Dorothy climbed the northern bare branch of her nest’s Sycamore tree. With a cautious but determined pace, she scaled the limb slowly, occasionally making a calculated hop and a flap to test her capabilities.

“Ooooh! Woah!” could be heard from the crowd on the bridge as Dorothy became airborne several times on her ascent.

Legs dangle on Dorothy's launch!

City buses whirled by on Connecticut Avenue. Dog walkers led their new doodle pups up and down the Klingle Valley Trail. The world seemed oblivious to history in the making. But the hawk watchers were fixed and focused on one thing: a raptor on a branch.

Then, at 12:51 pm (EST), Dorothy dispatched her home tree and thrust her wings to gain lift. The launch was steady and direct. She made a perfect landing in a nearby tree several yards from the nest as onlookers on the bridge were heard cheering. Dorothy looked mature and distinguished as she gazed back at the bridge and her nest.

“She grew up so fast!” says Michaela from Cleveland Park. “Now I can go home.”

Graduation is over, but the education continues for hawk watchers who look to learn what happens next.

The fledge.

The landing pad. 

Pre-fledge airborne moments. 

MAY 27, 2020

Covid knows his mom and dad will be by for food drop-offs so he watches the nest below for deliveries. He has already spent one night out of the nest and is feeling confident about his abilities. 

Covid's siblings look up at him from the nest.

Covid's first return home to the nest after fledging. Not a perfect landing, but he made it! "Welcome home, Brother!"

MAY 26, 2020 — Historic Day — First Flight!!

Covid tests his wind resistance early in the morning, ahead of his first flight. 

Covid feels ready.

NASA's historic launch is near, but one of our hawks made its own launch Tuesday. Covid, the oldest (we think!) has been making test flights to the branch for days, but at approximately 5:50 PM (EST) he made his maiden voyage to the tree next door. The bridge folk were all aflutter. 

"Where is he?everyone asked with great concern.

"There's only two hawks in the nest!"

The view from below the nest.

We looked hard to find little Covid's face in the tree. When we found him he didn't look fearful, in fact, he seemed confident that his mission went well.

The siblings were as shocked as we were. 

"Where's our brother?" Asks Cleveland.

"I don't know," responds Dorothy, "I turned my head for a second and the branch was bare."

MAY 24, 2020

One of the older hawk siblings goes out on a limb to look down to the ground. Soon the juvenile raptor will be soaring high above the tree canopy. But for today, a leap to a nearby branch is an accomplishment. Its siblings look on with admiration and wonder. 

"Hear me roar," says the young teen-age hawkling! 

MAY 22, 2020

In-between the intermittent rain I caught the drenched hawks amidst their morning rituals. This time, Libby sat on her branch in the understory and shook like a dog to dry off a bit.                          

The little ones waited in a line for their next feeding, which would come after I left for cover and tomato soup.  Note the nestling on the far right (below). This is our little Dorothy. Overnight her down-covered head grew brown juvenile feathers.  

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Mama Libby calling for Daddy Walt. "Bring me a mouse from the store," she says, "and don't take all day!" 

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MAY 21, 2020

I nearly slept in an extra hour this morning, then realized we're getting close to fledging day (when the young take flight lessons) so I got myself together and ran to the bridge. 

"Still three (hawklings) there?"  I said to the familiar crew locked on the nest, realizing in my excitement that I should have said good morning first.

"Still three,"  said a woman with binoculars. Relief.

With this confirmed I headed to the middle of the bridge where you can often catch a glimpse of the hawk parents on a twisty dead bare branch. Nothing. Then I heard an aggressive sounding Blue Jay and something fluttering in the tree canopy. It was the Blue Jay pursuing one of the hawk parents!  The hawk landed and the Blue Jay began swooping back and forth, dive-bombing the raptor.  The hawk just sat there, as if amused, watching the bird as if it was a show. The Blue Jay was likely defending its own nest from being preyed upon. 

A little while later the hawk parents had a rendezvous on the twisty branch. They met for a breakfast hand-off for the young ones. Walt caught the prey, hands it off to Libby, and Libby will do a drive-by to drop the meal off at the nest. Better than Uber Eats!

Meanwhile, at the nest, Covid (the oldest, as obvious by his full plumage of brown juvenile feathers), dances up and down with outstretched wings until he is inches above the nest!  Airborne! The siblings look less amazed than the flock of us on the bridge.

"Did you see that??"  I asked the woman next to me. Her camera clicking away answered my question. 

I'm so glad I decided not to sleep in. 

MAY 20, 2020

Dorothy, the youngest, is becoming more like her older siblings every day. Her back feathers are browner in color, though there's still some soft down on her little head and chest. While we call her "Dorothy", we really don't know the gender, however, it helps to have a name to track the young hawk.  The buzz on the bridge is how much stronger she seems, and more sure of herself. I had to laugh when Mama Libby brought a small rodent to the nest and Dorothy aggressively went after it, attempting to swallow it whole. A cheer from our peanut gallery must have been heard all the way to Dupont Circle. I'll spare you the photos of all this (too graphic, but very interesting!). 

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One month ago today we first discovered the hatchlings! The oldest is at least four weeks.

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MAY 19, 2020

This morning Libby was gliding high above the tree canopy crying her familiar "kee-rah" hawk-talk. She was likely looking for prey now that the nestlings are a little older and can spend more time alone.  Perhaps they feel content hearing her cries, knowing she is never far. 

MAY 18, 2020

Libby looks for greens to keep the nest tidy.

Click on article below to read story by Kate Ryan with WTOP News!

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