Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Young Beth, who follows the hawk's activities with her Mom online, emailed me some questions and I sent them off to John Blakeman, the Ohio Red-tail Answer Man for his response.

Beth said...

My Mom and I are very interested in the Red-tailed Hawks. My Mom says it sounds like from your notes that the peregrine falcons and redtail hawks live close to each other. Do they? I've read that Peregrines can hurt hawks. How dangerous is it?

John Blakeman's reply...

Beth's concerns are legitimate. Normally, in wild rural areas, red-tails and peregrines seldom encounter each other. Peregrines tend to stay high on cliffs or out over marshes or large waterways where they can drive prey birds out into open sky and easily capture them. Red-tails tend to stay close to the ground, seldom higher than the tops of trees (except in migration, where peregrines pay no attention to them).

But red-tails will not pass up an easy meal, and nothing could be easier than four half-grown peregrine eyasses sitting wide open on a cliff (or building or bridge) ledge. Consequently, peregrines will drive off any nearby raptor, especially a red-tail that ventures out into open air. The red-tails can remain relatively safe if they stay down near the trees. Peregrines can't maneuver well in trees. They need wide open skies in which to stoop (dive) and kill their prey or drive off red-tails.

But everyone who has watched Central Park red-tails knows that these big birds commonly soar high in open air. A peregrine with a nearby nest is very likely to attack the soaring red-tail. If the hawk is attentive and watches the falcon dive, the big hawk will turn over and offer its talons as the falcon attacks, protecting itself. The smaller falcon will probably veer off, with no damage done to either bird. But a red-tail is only going to take a certain amount of these attacks. After consistent peregrine attacks, a red-tail is likely to move on.

A determined peregrine can kill an inattentive red-tail. The peregrine can dive at speeds in excess of 200 mph. A soaring or flying red-tail must be quick in turning over and protecting itself. If it's looking at something else, the big hawk can be instantly killed.

Newly fledged red-tail eyasses would be particularly vulnerable to peregrine attack. These young birds don't know much about anything, how to fly, how protect themselves, or the flight habits of peregrines. It would be wise for red-tail fledglings to stay down among the tree limbs until they perfect flight skills and learn about the lightning fast peregrines shooting through the skies above.

So, will peregrines limit or change the nesting behaviors of Central Park red-tails? They might. Central Park hawkwatchers need to make good observations. Let's see how this new development might play out.

--John A. Blakeman

(For more recent posts, click on palemaleirregulars at the top of the page.)

1 comment:

Ben C. said...

This isn't a new situation. Peregrines have been occupying this exact same territory for at least 10 years. The nesting RTs at the south end of the park have been in the area since 2002.

I've been watching mated Peregrines in this territory since 1996 but this is the first year I've been able to see exactly where they are nesting.

I once watched both Peregrines diving on the Red-taileds as they were perched on the current nest site. I don't remember the number of times they dove but both Peregrines would alternate and dive on the pair of RTs perched on the nest structure. I feared for both the PFs and the RTs since the PFs were approaching the nest so closely.

None of the raptors were injured during this incident.

Ben Cacace
Manhattan, NYC