Sometime in September, I remember sitting on my front stoep with a cup of tea (and no camera) and was treated to the sight of our resident pair of African Goshawks chasing each other through the blue gums before settling quickly into their mating position. ‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘babies on the way soon.
Later that month, again looking out of my kitchen window, one of the goshawks flew into a tree with a large stick in its beak. We observed this stick-collecting many times over the following few weeks, by both of the adult birds. We saw their nest, high in a fork of a tree, deep in the foliage, slowly get bigger. Then, nothing. Both birds seemed to disappear and we didn’t see any further nest-building. It seemed that they had totally abandoned the nest, and after so much time and effort had been put into building it too.
Then on 1 October, we spotted what we now know was the adult female goshawk sitting on the nest. We hadn’t seen any movement at all prior to this sighting. The nest was in a blue gum tree some 100 metres from our kitchen window, and the best view we could get of the nest was through the window, using a tripod to hold the camera still. We had to wait until each time the wind blew the foliage away to get a glimpse of what was going on in the nest, it was so well hidden. We watched through a pair of binoculars placed on the kitchen worktop every time we passed by, but it wasn’t until 10 October that we spotted a couple of tiny white headed chicks.
Female on nest
Three chicks on nest
Mom busy feeding
The adult male goshawk would come regularly to the nest with food, emerging at speed from the thicket and swooping low before climbing steeply up to the nest. He deposited the food in seconds, and then left. Not once did we see him stop and interact with the female or the chicks. Sometimes, he would then go and sit in the adjacent tree, some five meters from the nest site and take a break, totally ignoring them.
Mum could be seen early on ripping up the food and feeding the chicks, only eating something herself when they were full. This process carried on until on 21 October when, excitement, we spotted a third white head. Triplets! With three mouths to feed, the male wasn’t able to bring food fast enough for the female’s liking, so she would leave the nest, never for more than thirty minutes, returning with more food. The chicks were growing so fast that mum was allowing them to rip up the food themselves, as well as also feeding them herself.
We watched on a daily, if not hourly, basis as the chicks started to change into their brownish colouration, and started to flap and move around the nest. On several occasions, we observed the chicks and mum go to the edge of the nest, turn around, and defecate over the side; obviously, a very houseproud family!
Plumage changing ....
towards darker colours
Now, with both parents hunting and bringing food to the nest, the chicks continued to gain weight rapidly, and around the end of October, the two older chicks were seen to leave the nest and stand on the thick branches that supported it. By now, these babies were very close to fledging, and a few days later, they could be seen venturing out along the branches where they would sit for hours, watching, with the occasional wing flap and jump up and down. The two older chicks could now only be seen clambering through the foliage back to the nest to eat food that had been brought in by the parents. The younger chick was still growing rapidly, and hadn’t left the nest yet as it was still being fed by the female.
First time off the nest
On the 7 November, we spotted both parents sitting in different trees but close to the nest. We took this as a sign of encouragement to the babies to make that first flight. Unfortunately, we never saw that first flight. They just weren’t there one day. It was late in the afternoon, however, when one of the older babies turned up and headed to the nest for food. The youngest chick remained around the nest for a few more days, and then we did see him fly a few meters upwards from a lower branch back to the nest. But then he was gone too!
Male African Goshawk
Female African Goshawk
All we have to look at now is an empty nest. There is the feeling of loss, as we had become very attached to our babies.
For the more technical-minded bird photographers amongst us, I took over 3000 images over a 42 day period and ended up with 34 useable shots, such was the difficulty of trying to focus deep into the moving foliage from my kitchen window in all weathers.