Thursday, June 14, 2018

Hawk holdout delays bridge painting project

No, not Earl Thomas. A pair of red-tailed hawks picked a surprising place to nest

By Marqise Allen

Our construction projects often deal with rain delays, but a bird delay? That's a new one.

And that's what happened when two red-tailed hawks nested on the SR 99 Aurora Bridge in Seattle, throwing off the original schedule to begin painting the bridge this spring.

They say raising a child takes a village. The same could be said for raising a baby red-tailed hawk on a bridge in the middle of Seattle. Though the birds are common to the area, it's extremely rare for them to nest on bridges. Red-tailed hawks typically nest with their egg in trees in urban environments. Maybe a high rise at worst.
Left: Peek-a-boo. Gerry, a young red-tailed hawk born on Seattle’s Aurora Bridge, gives us a look from a safe distance.
Right: The SR 99 Aurora Bridge red-tailed hawks proved elusive for photos, but this is likely what they looked like.

While we're caretakers of our highway infrastructure, we also work to protect wildlife. Ensuring the egg's survival meant coordinating state agencies and the contractor for the project, patience, and a bit of luck.

These two lovebirds likely have experience landing a home in a housing market that can be tough even for hawks. The pair are probably the same birds that nested on the bridge during the first phase of the painting project in 2016. Unfortunately, the nest was built too close to where workers were already painting on the north side of the bridge, directly below the bridge deck. The nest was moved and the egg was given to the Burke Museum.

"We wanted to prevent a similar situation this time," said biology lead Katina Kapantais.  "So we kept an eye out for them. We saw them hanging out around the bridge, but we never saw a nest."
A look at where two red-tailed hawks nested on the SR 99 Aurora Bridge, causing a bridge painting job to be delayed.

Usually it takes red-tailed hawks a couple of weeks to set up a nest. This pair did it in three to four days during Easter this year. And they not only built their home during the holiday weekend, but also laid an egg.

Kapantais said we initially thought we'd need to move the nest again, but instead the contractor – Liberty Maintenance – proposed working around the birds instead. They proposed a number of options and worked to adjust their schedule for a few weeks and limit noise to avoid disturbing the birds. The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife reviewed and signed off on the plan.

And everyone's patience paid off. The egg successfully hatched in early May.  The baby bird – which our contractor named Gerry – has already taken flight and left the nest for higher beams in the area. It'll stay near the nest for the next few months until it builds up enough strength to hunt and fly farther before moving on somewhere else.

Even in ideal circumstances, baby red-tailed hawks have about a 50 percent chance of survival, Kapantais said. Many either flame out of flight school (a pass/fail course) or their parents simply abandon them and stop bringing food.

"The fact that this one survived with roads and water below is great news," Kapantais said. "And it took a group effort."

1 comment:

asprochi said...

Thank you WSDOT for accommodating these lovely birds. Good job all around!

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