Feeding Their Young
From the moment the eggs hatch, raptor parents are busy. When most raptor chicks hatch, their eyes are open. T ey can see their parents right away. T e chicks aren’t born with a lot of feathers.
To stay warm, raptor chicks must stay close to their mother at all times. Her feathers keep them warm. T e chicks eat meat the day they’re born,
and they’re always hungry. T ey tip their heads back and open their mouths. Cheep, cheep, they scream until they’re fed. At first, only their father leaves the nest to
hunt for food. T eir mother stays behind to protect them and keep them warm. T e father returns with prey. Both parents rip the prey into pieces for the chicks to eat. Two weeks aſt er hatching, many raptor
chicks grow thick, white down. T ese fuzzy feathers keep the chicks warm even without their mother’s body heat. Now, both the mother and father can hunt and bring back food. Young birds of prey grow very fast. At this
age, a baby raptor can eat over half as much as it weighs each day. It takes both parents’ eff orts to feed all the chicks. For these first few weeks of life, baby raptors only eat, sleep, and grow.
This week-old golden eagle sits in its nest.
Defending Their Nest
Baby raptors are fragile. T ey can’t fly away or fight back. So they can’t escape danger. T ey need their parents to protect them. Some raptor parents defend their nests
aggressively. Kestrals swoop and dive at animals that come too close to their nests. Some falcons dive at nearby animals and threaten them with their powerful talons. Most owls defend their nests by trying to
look tough. An owl might fluff its feathers to make itself look bigger. It might flip its wings and fan them around its body. It might crouch down and loudly snap its beak open and closed. Sometimes, it might even hiss.
A young raptor’s body changes quickly. Aſt er six weeks or so, it loses its down. Stiff feathers push through its skin. As the weeks go by, it becomes fully feathered. Now, it’s time to fly. Raptors aren’t born knowing how to fly.
Each one must learn. T is happens mostly through trial and error. A bird learning to fly is called a fledgling. A Cooper’s hawk is one of the most skillful
fliers. A fledgling hawk starts by exercising its wing muscles while it’s still in the nest. When a Cooper’s hawk is old enough to stand up and perch, it hops out of the nest. Grasping a tree branch with its feet, it stretches and flaps its wings. It’s not flying yet, just practicing. Before long, it’s ready for a real test. It moves
to the end of a branch and steps off . In most cases, a Cooper’s hawk is able to flutter long enough to move itself to a lower limb of a tree or shrub unharmed. Sometimes, a fledgling will make it to
the ground. It may not have the strength or experience to fly back up to its nest, though. Being on the ground is dangerous for a
young raptor. When this happens, its parents jump into action. T ey know their baby still needs their help. T ey find and feed their fledgling until the baby becomes a better flier.
6 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER
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