Thursday, November 23, 2006

Pale Male and Lola

Photograph by Lincoln Karim of
(Upfront let me apologize for the formating issues in this post. DB)
The discussion started with a question in the comments section from an anonymous reader under the entry Pale Male and Lola sit on Linda. I answered him and then John Blakeman had some thoughts as well.
(By the way, It's weird talking to the nameless in the case of an Anonymous so I'm just going to name this Anonymous, "Bif".)
Bif wrote, "I thought that hawks kept to themselves for most of the year. Why are Pale Male and Lola different? "
I responded, "Why are Pale Male and Lola different? To tell you the truth, I'm afraid we'd have to ask them for the best answer and as far as I know they aren't much for talking to humans.
Actually we're not even sure if they are that completely and utterly different. We do know that some of Pale Male's previous mates did seem to become scarce in the off breeding season. One may even have taken a vacation to New Jersey and been hit by a car.But in reality, as it's so difficult to observe many Red-tail pairs in their usual territories, we don't really know exactly how rare Pale Male and Lola's penchant for hanging out together in the non-breeding season actually is. Though the common wisdom concerning "normal" Red-tail behavior would lead us to believe that it is very rare.
Just theorizing here, but it might have something to do with the high prey availibility in Central Park. There is plenty of food so why venture further afield, bringing us back to the Raisin Bread Theory.Then one might ask why the other mates weren't observed more doing the same, if it had to do with prey? Well, here's a little secret, there is very little to do with wildlife behavior that stems from only one "cause", in my opinion, unless it has to do with innate "wiring".
Red-tails, once again in my opinion, have to come up with solutions to various environmental needs either through observation of other hawks or experimentation to find the solution on their own. They are generalists and don't have an innate solution to everything wired in. For instance, Pale Male discovered how to take pigeons as prey. Not something that his ancestors seem to have been doing or one would think that the ancestors of the pigeons would have evolved some kind of wired-in response to help them from being so easily nabbed.
Now from what I've been told Lola was young when she appeared on the scene and turned Pale Male's head. Her eyes had not completely darkened yet from report. She is unlikely to have had a previous mate who kept his distance in the off season.Also from report, some of Pale Male's earlier mates were more experienced females who may have passed breeding seasons with other mates and the pairs may have done the "usual" branching out to other hunting grounds due to prey availibility during the off season. They may even have been from territories from which Red-tails migrate.
Once learned a behavior that works tends to be kept.As far as I know, Pale Male has tended to winter in Central Park keeping an eye on things. Perhaps Lola, not having had any other experience to the contrary just took his cue and stayed around too. Though that doesn't really account for their sitting around in the same tree together as there are plenty of other spots to companionably sit apart if that's the urge and pass the winter with full crops.Without question these two birds are very deeply bonded.
And....there is also the fact that they are Sovereigns of Central Park. What is it Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth says to Katherine of France when she says it isn't the custom for certain behaviors to take place between them? "...nice customs courtesy to great kings. You and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country's fashion: we are the makers of manners."
And from Mr. Blakeman-


I just happened to read your remarks to the person who wondered about why the two hawks are spending the off-season so closely together in Central Park.

Your comments I think are right on. I can only add that I have a number of wild pairs out here where very similar winter behaviors are seen, albeit less frequently. But that is probably because our old pairs occupy 2- and 3-square mile territories, with lots of small but dense woodlots where the birds can sit and not be seen.

The food "thing" is the thing. With lots of available food, the CP hawks can spend inordinate amounts of time sitting around and otherwise dallying. Instead of hunger and the prospects of going for several days without available prey, as out here with my wild red-tails, the always fat (or at least sated) CP birds can respond to the gentle hormonal prompts evolving from the decreased photoperiods at this time of year.
John Blakeman

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