Ever since I discovered the location of the hawk nest, I have had a dilemma. I have been struggling with the growing suspicion that the Mother Hawk is not Roxie. One part of my brain said: "You saw Rufous and Roxie bonding and nest-building this spring; how can she not be Roxie?" The other part of my brain said: "The Mother Hawk that you now see still has her first-year plumage; she can't be Roxie."
At this point, I wanted to have confirmation. So I sent photos to the Hawk ID group, an assembly of true experts who hold themselves to the highest standards of raptor identification. Anyone who posts there must be able to substantiate their opinion by pointing out the field marks of the species. Here are the two photos I posted and my question to the group:
"I have a special I.D. need. A pair of Cooper's hawks has nested in or near my yard near Dallas, TX for nine years. I believe it to be the same male from year to year, but he sometimes brings a new female. The first photo is of the female taken March 7, 2017, while the pair were bonding and nest-building. The second photo was taken after the fledglings left the nest on July 4, 2017. No doubt about her being the mother of the fledglings. Can these photos be the same female?"
I held my breath as one, then another, and another of the experts responded that there's no way the two hawks can be the same hawk. "The first photo is an adult as told by the horizontal breast barring. The second pic is a juvenile Cooper's Hawk as told by the vertical breast streaking." They acknowledged that it is possible for females to reproduce in juvenile plumage, so it's possible the bird (on the right) could still be the "mother".
So... sadly... I must conclude that something has happened to Roxie. The most likely scenario is that Roxie was lost to us some time after we last saw them nest-building on March 10. Before breeding season was over, Rufous must have quickly found another female to replace her. This is speculation, of course, but not outside the realm of possibility.
In retrospect, I also knew the Mother Hawk was excessively protective. Roxie was fairly mellow toward humans and simply watched while we gazed up at her nest and took photos of her. She was a good mother...
For the time being, I will refer to the Mother Hawk as "New Female." I must have more time to digest the loss of Roxie.
Continue to Chapter 12: Last Glimpses
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