Parental fatigue

When is it time for kids to go off on their own?  Certainly, what’s in the kid’s interest is not always the same as what’s in the parent’s interest.  In animal behavior, we call that “parent-offspring conflict”.  Everybody else just talks about it in the context of kids living in the basement.

This came up today because a colleague came in to my office to say, “there’s a hawk on the ground making a lot of noise!”.  In fact, that hawk (a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk) had been making a lot of noise all day.  Every time I walked outside today, I could hear it calling.  After my colleague mentioned it, though, I went out check out the bird.  This juvenile clearly didn’t relish being expected to fend for itself.

Now, after a hawk fledges, they remain with their parents for a period of time.  During this time, the bird is learning to forage on its own, but is still the recipient of food brought to it.  These hunger calls have been seen in birds from when they leave the nest until the point where they are completely independent, which may be 100 or so days.

Fitch, H.S., F. Swenson, and D.F. Tillotson.  1946.  Behavior and food habits of the Red-tailed Hawk.  Condor 48:  205-237.

Like most begging calls, these hunger calls are irritating (probably to the parents as much as to people) in part because of their desperate sound.   When I went to investigate this bird, it was no longer making calls, but was standing on the ground.  Apparently, this posture was what worried my colleague.  Watching the juvenile in this position was fascinating, though.  It repeatedly jumped onto a pine cone, then tilted sideways, several times tossing the cone into the air.  It would hop and land, talons splayed in the pine needles.  When other people approached the bird, it had no problems getting into the air and would land on branches nearby, then come back to its spot on the ground near the pine needles.  Several times it picked up an object in its beak and would then manipulate it with its talons, too.

These signs weren’t those of an injured bird.  Taken together, these behaviors seemed to beIMG_3464 that of a bird learning how to forage- very rudimentary hunting.  Even after all the high-drama screaming, a little bit of neglect from the parents gave this juvenile enough alone time to begin practicing itself.


About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
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