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Fledgling Harvard hawks taking flight on campus

Posted by Brock Parker  June 11, 2013 04:36 PM

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A fledgling red-tailed hawk is preparing to make it's first flight from the nest atop Harvard's Maxwell Dworkin building. Photo by Brock Parker.

From atop the Maxwell Dworkin building, higher than a Harvard College student’s SAT score, the last of three fledgling red-tailed hawks is preparing for its maiden flight.

Passersby below along Oxford Street in Cambridge can be seen craning their necks for a look up at the baby hawk, which has courage enough to step out of the nest atop a fourth floor ledge, but is not ready to fly, just yet.


Next door, at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, staff members can be seen crowding at the windows, holding up cameras and snapping pictures of the fledgling hawk before it takes off.

The fledgling’s siblings, two of them, took flight over the weekend for the first time, said Andy Provost, a 66-year-old wildlife photographer who’s been watching the birds for a couple of weeks.

But the other hawks are still nearby. One of the siblings, likely a female, has been hanging out in a tree nearby that hangs over the sidewalk along Oxford Street. Another family member, possibly the bird’s mother, prefers to perch atop the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and made a visit to the last fledgling this morning.


Provost said the mother is very good mother, and one day while she was away from the nest it began to rain heavily. Within seconds, Provost said the mother had returned to the nest and spread her wings and tail to give shelter to her chicks.

“It’s really heartwarming to see,” he said.

Don Claflin, a facilities manager at Harvard, said hawks had been nesting in a tree near Pierce Hall a few years ago before a hawk began building a nest next door on the Maxwell Dworkin building about two years ago.

At the time, Claflin said he got the idea to mount a camera on the building to watch the hawk’s progress building the nest and he brought in some information technology experts at the college to assist. They mounted a camera on the building beside the nest, and put the feed from the camera up online.

The video soon became a hit, Claflin said, with Harvard staff constantly watching the hawk’s activities.

“I think they spend more time watching these birds than they do doing their work,” he said.

Then one day about two years ago Claflin got a call that the hawk wasn’t there. Then Susan Moses, Deputy Director of the Center for Health Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health, heard about a hawk that had been hit by a car nearby, and had been saved by the Animal Rescue League of Boston. The hawk was taken to Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton to heal, and when it was ready Moses brought the bird back to Harvard and released it.

Last year, Claflin said the bird did not nest at the Maxwell Dworkin building, but it returned to the nest this year and this spring laid eggs.

The camera caught most of the action, including the mother returning to the nests with squirrels and rats to feed the fledglings. Finally, the camera broke down on the day of Harvard’s commencement, Claflin said. A replacement camera has arrived, but Claflin said he’s been instructed that installing it right now may scare the remaining fledgling to jump off the roof before it is ready.

“I don’t want that on my conscience, then I’ll have everybody at Harvard blaming me for the death of the bird,” Claflin said.

But birdwatchers continue to keep a close eye on the fledglings and the other hawks flying around that part of the campus, though, Claflin said.

“Interest in the birds has really taken off,” he said.

Moses said she continues keeping a close eye on the hawks and their fledglings. She said that over the weekend after two of the fledglings left the nest for the first time, the third fledgling that had been left behind made a distressed sound as if it missed its siblings.

Moses said the mother then flew to the nest and seemed to comfort the one remaining fledgling. It’s the type of interaction that she thinks helps pique people’s interest in the birds.

“They really have individual personalities,” Moses said. “They communicate with each other. Nature is really fascinating.”

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