Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Red-tailed Hawks, Eastern Screech Owls, and a Cougar

Temperature: 32 F.
Wind: Variable
Definitely Cloudy
Precipitation: A few dozen snowflakes at 3PM
3:30PM Neither Pale Male or Lola are in view on the nest or environs of 927 Fifth Ave.

Nor are either on the Stovepipe railing or atop Oreo's antenna.

Every tree seems to have a squirrel that is whining but there isn't a raptor in sight. I also realize anew that the going-to-bed-three-hours-before-sunset squirrel rule doesn't apply in Central Park. It seems that is just for country squirrels.

4:16PM A number of medium sized birds flush from the lake into the trees on Cherry Hill. An immature Red-tail glides in from the east and perches. It then flies over the lake and is lost in the trees near the drive. But by this time I'm on the hunt for Screech Owls. I'm not really sure where they are and of course because of the cloudy cold weather I've yet to see someone with a pair of binoculars so I can ask for directions. I continue to walk west. Some weeks ago, I'd been crossing the park and seen a photographer with hordes of equipment rushing south late in the day on the west side so decide to go in that direction. Perhaps he was attempting to catch fly-out or then again perhaps he was late for a dinner date.
I head south, and low and behold two Red-tails fly over further west and go into a tree. One has a pale head. By the time I get past the trees, I see an immature but not the adult who seemed to be after him. And then he too is gone. I continue south, hoping for owl inspiration. By the time I get down to about 70th, I see a park worker scanning the trees. Aha!
I ask if he's seen the hawks, "Yes", he says, but he's lost them as well. This is how I meet Nott, a terrific guy, who's keeping tabs on the birds in his working area.
Then I ask, "So Nott, I'm looking for the Screech Owls would you happen to know where they are?" And he does, and nicely points out the tree and cavities that are their day roosts.
Then a gentleman walking his dog, comes by and tells us that a hawk has knocked a squirrel off a tree. The squirrel seems to have a broken leg, can't climb back up the tree, and the Red-tail is trying to catch him.
I say, "Where?" Just over that little hill, our informer tells us. Nott has to get back to work, so I head over the hill, thinking. Knocked a squirrel off a tree? Pretty unusual for a Red-tail to do that, unless the squirrel is being double teamed by two birds and Red-tails rarely do that. A squirrel does to Red-tails what they do to dogs or chasing children they just go to the other side of the trunk or branch, zip. Red-tails usually take squirrels that are caught on the ground between trees.
By the time I get over the hill, there are a number of people with dogs looking at the ground. I don't see the Red-tail. Perhaps scared off by the proximity of the people and dogs looking at the squirrel?

4:46PM Suddenly the immature Red-tail comes flying in from the east. Lands, looks, and switches trees. I get a look at her eyes. They're light but not that light, this may be a second year juvenile. Then again it just could be the dim light.

In the meantime, the squirrel, note he's not using his right leg, has made it up the tree. The RT peers around the trunk.

The squirrel switches positions. No blood anywhere and now he's hanging by both back legs. I'm wondering if the squirrel didn't see the RT coming until the very last second and either flung himself off the tree, probably unlikely, or possibly more likely, missed his grip and fell just as the RT got to him.
Squirrel factoid: Squirrels do sometimes fall out of trees while doing normal scampering around up there. One of the uses of their multi-purpose fluffy tail is that of a parachute on these occasions. They also attempt to twist into and land in a position that will absorb the shock without damage to themselves.
And as now the squirrel's leg seems to be back to working at least somewhat, I'm thinking that the RT didn't break the leg, but the fall may have shocked some nerves, or dislocated something, that has now decided to come back into play. Perhaps hanging upside down zapped it back into place?

Because when the Red-tail switches sides so does the squirrel with plenty of time to get away. His legs seem to be working just dandy again.
4:54PM The brown-tail peers around the trunk from the other direction.

Then she notices the group of dog walkers that has gathered and flies off east again. Her flight spooks another squirrel and the RT half heartedly heads for it, misses and continues out of sight.
I head back over the little hill toward the Owl tree.

5:02PM Mr. Screech is still sleepy but he's got half an eye peeled just in case.

5:04PM Then his head whips around to the north. I wonder if the hawk is back for another try?
Enough already, it could be anything. I'm not sure when these guys fly out so I decide to stick where I am.

5:10PM Something has caught his attention close enough where he's looking a little cross eyed. Still no sign of an owl in what I'm told is the female's cavity.

5:22PM Male Screech Owl's pre-fly out toilette is in full swing. He preens his chest and belly. Scratches where needed and tends to his wings. Then he starts moving his head and neck in a motion very similar to a cat with a hair ball and ejects a pellet.
5:29PM Something attracts his attention and he stares fixedly.
5:30PM He flies out and lands on a branch in the same tree, just to the right and slightly above his roost den.

5:31PM Who's head should now pop out but female Screech Owl.
5:47PM She flies out to the south. I didn't see much in the way of preening, though at this point it is quite dark but she may have done some of her tending inside the cavity. Perhaps she has the larger bedroom?

5:37PM Mr. Screech is still in his original fly out position. I exit so as not to disturb his hunting.

And in from Carol Studebaker: It seems there is a Cougar that was last two miles from me in Wisconsin. It would be pretty exciting to see that out the kitchen window right about now. Instead of the new 10 inches of snow and more on the way.
Donegal Browne


Roe said...

I wouldn't use the eye's of these birds to judge age, especially when you can see that nice brown barred tail. That is a first year bird, I'm sure.


Donegal Browne said...

You are of course, absolutely correct.