Monday, December 31, 2007

A Pear Eating Hawk in Brooklyn?

Tip checks out the rainy New York City skyline. Her sister Edge decided that sleeping was preferable.
A few days ago, a question came in from Brooklyn via the comments section:

There is a window feeder as well as a suet feeder on the fire escape of my Brooklyn apartment. The birds attracted by this setup are primarily sparrows, house finches and Quaker parrots--and recently hawks.

I've never seen the hawks catch anything but last week there was a surprising incident. Looking out the window, I saw a large red-tail sitting on the railing intently examining the bird feeders. Then the hawk jumped down to the fire escape and grabbed a ripe pear that had fallen off the top of the suet. It then flew off with its prize. Could this be a vegan hawk?

Prior to this incident, I always thought that hawks were exclusively meat eaters.

Dear Brooklyn,

You're not the only one who thinks that hawks are exclusively meat eaters. Everyone else thinks so as well. (Though never say never, just because no one has ever seen it doesn't necessarily mean it never ever happens, at least from the true science point of view.)

By any chance, was there suet on the pear?

A winter or so back, there was an immature Red-tail in Central Park that was extremely partial to suet. Did you notice if the hawk was an adult or immature?

By the way, in which neighborhood in Brooklyn did you see the hawk?


Brooklyn answered :

The pear was mushy and most likely had only the "essence" of suet on it.

Since it's my understanding that hawks don't have a very good sense of smell, that can't be the attraction.

Could it have been so hungry that it would consider eating an over-ripened pear? I didn't get a very good look at the hawk but it was large and stocky in appearance. It seemed to be a Red-tail, but now I can't specifically recall the red tail or dark eyes indicative of an adult.

It's interesting to note that although I was only a few feet away on the other side of the window, the hawk didn't seem especially concerned by my presence. (There is another hawk--possibly a Cooper's--that flees at my slightest movement.)

In previous years, there would be a sighting of a large hawk only once or twice during the winter. Now it's every week. It appears that the only way to discourage the hawks is to stop filling up the feeders.

However, I was initially reluctant to stop feeding the birds because the green Monk parrots show up only in the winter and seem especially dependent on the feeders.

This is all taking place in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn which abuts the Narrows of lower New York harbor.

As a side note, there is a pigeon coop on the roof of an apartment building about a block away, but it's rare to see the owner flying his pigeons anymore. Is it possible that the hawks are turning this area into a no-fly zone for pigeons?

Dear Brooklyn,

I suppose it's possible that the pigeons won't go up because of a hawk they've spotted but I'm wondering if it wasn't the pigeon fancier who decided to turn the area into no-fly zone for pigeons for awhile in hopes that the local raptors might just take a hike without the temptation of squab every other day.

Unquestionably Monks, and other birds as well, in and near cities do depend heavily on feeders, sometimes for their only sustenance. Therefore I've come to the conclusion that available food and a natural predator is most likely preferable to no food with the possible presence of a predator anyway.

And it may not just be the feeders that are causing more sightings of big hawks your way. More and more raptors for whatever reason, whether they are being pressured into human sight by lack of habitat or they were hatched in urban settings and are therefore more habituated to humans, there are just far more raptors around to be seen.

As to a hawks sense of smell, science has often been quite wrong about particular avian species sense of smell so I wouldn't discount completely "essence of suet" being an attractor on the pear. Does squishy pear resemble suet enough to fool a hawk into carrying it away? Currently unanswerable so then what?

Red-tails are adaptable but I have to admit pear snacks seem a bit of a stretch when compared to our current knowledge.

But having said that, pigeons are considered herbivores who's diet in the wild consists of grains and greens. But what New Yorker hasn't seen city pigeons making short work of a stray hot dog on the sidewalk? If I'd only heard about it and not seen it, I'd have wondered if they even had the digestive equipment to deal with meat.

Now it's true that pigeons are "learned eaters". They have to watch other pigeons or perhaps I can't say, just other birds eat in order to know how to do it themselves. It isn't innate.

Some years ago we became the proud foster parents of Tip and Edge, a pair of pigeon sisters. They were orphaned at a few days old and we hand fed them to weaning age, then realized we didn't have a eating role model on hand. It was winter so we bundled them up in a shoe box, little heads sticking out and placed them on the terrace where they'd have a chance of watching their wild compatriots eating. This was fine for a little while. At least until Tip struggled out of her wrappings, hopped out of the shoebox, hot footed it to the terrace door and stood there looking up until we retrieved both of them back into the house.

Tip and Edge did learn to eat seed from watching out the windows. They also, having helped themselves to some bread and butter earlier, developed a real taste for butter that led them to working in tandem to get the lid off the butter dish when the humans were otherwise engaged in cage cleaning.

They had never shown the slightest interest in hot dogs. In fact they were offered hot dog as an experiment once and turned their beaks up at it. Then one day when Tip and Edge were perhaps nine months old, someone, to prove a point that pigeons would eat anything even when not desperate for food, decided to give them a link sausage. I said go ahead, 99.9% sure they wouldn't touch it. Well, the sausage came within reach and they leapt upon it like little white feathered vampires and devoured it in seconds. Then went back to looking the perfect herbivores pecking away at their Haagen dove mix.

I remember being quite taken aback and thinking, "Wow. That was really weird!" And even weirder still, they have never deigned to touch a speck of meat of any kind since.

Therefore who am I to say that a Red-tail, particularly a young one, might not just decide to to try eating a squishy pear one winter's day?

Though I must say, that would make quite the startling photograph now wouldn't it?

Donegal Browne

No comments: