Friday, April 11, 2008

Blakeman on the 888 7th Avenue Nest

Photograph by Brett Odom
Charlotte coming off the 888 7th Avenue nest.
There were some questions concerning Charlotte and Pale Male Jr.'s behavior of late and below John Blakeman gives some answers and expresses his opinion on the situation---

About the curious happenings at the 7th Ave nest.

First, the greenhouse warmth that the glass windows might provide are not sufficient to keep the eggs (if there are any) at proper incubation temperatures, just above 100 degrees F.

It’s very possible that there are no eggs. This is one of the weirdest and most aberrant Red-tail nests in the world.

A few years ago, when I first learned of Pale Male and his nest at 927 5th Ave, I tried to dismiss it, presuming that it, too, was the result of some weird, psychotic individual hawk that didn’t know how life should be lived as an adult Red-tail. Well, I was proven very wrong on all of that.

Still, the 7th Ave pair has teetered, or flown over the edge of Red-tail normalcy in selecting this strangest and least likely of all nest sites. Pale Male at least looked out over 1.6 square miles of Central Park (I think that’s the size). It’s green over there, with trees to perch in, and rats and squirrels and pigeons to hunt. But what was in the mind of the 7th Ave pair in trying to nest amongst the densely urban hardscapes there?

A failure of this year’s nest could be expected. It has no trees, no turf, no prey; just bricks, asphalt, and concrete.

Just like human couples who try to finance a bigger-than-can-be-afforded house in a too-expensive neighborhood (hence the sub-prime banking problems), this pair has made a bad nest site selection. They were fortunate to bring off a single eyass last season. And it got into trouble when it fledged in this urban canyon.

Are the birds acting rationally? Not at all. But Red-tails can’t act in deliberate, pondered, and considered ways. They aren’t mammals, and they don’t have a cerebrum of any size. They just go through the instinct-driven routines of life. In this case, they’ve found themselves stuck with a strange nest site. (If they were humans, can you imagine the “discussions” the pair would have about who chose this nest site?) They will continue to go through all the nesting motions, but probably incompletely, with the behavioral inadequacies the recent observations describe.

With this pair, at this location, everything about nesting is happening, but poorly. It’s a crummy nest site, resulting in a cascade of errors and problems.

Is there anything good about this. As a biologist, when I’m thinking on a higher analytical plane, I determine that Red-tails aren’t going to stick themselves in such inadequate nesting territories unless most of the good ones elsewhere are already occupied. As bad as this nest site is, it indicates that most of the other good ones (at least from the hawks’ eyes) are occupied. This means that Red-tails are now everywhere. That’s the good news. If the nest fails to produce eyasses this year, I shall take no concern. Red-tails in NYC and elsewhere are thriving. That’s good. I can sleep with that.

–John Blakeman
I haven't as yet given up completely on Charlotte and Junior when it comes to nesting this season. Junior was the first Red-tail we ever discovered spending the night on a building perch instead of roosting in a tree like all the other urban Red-tails. He does a lot of hunting directly off the sidewalk blocks away from a green space. Pale Male Jr. is our most urban, urban Red-tail.
As Charlotte and Junior aren't afraid to try new things outside the Red-tail box, they are our Bohemian Red-tails. They give things a shot. They may not always work but they keep on trying. They have a territory full of prey and their challenge has been in finding a really good nesting site within that territory.
Remember in 2005, they second clutched very late in the season and many thought it could not possibly ever work. But they had a grand pair of eyasses who fledged successfully and made it through their first winter before we lost track of them.
Let's see if they take a break this year or come up with something exquisitely new.
As early Hawk Watcher Ben Cacace is prone to say, "Never underestimate a Red-tail!"
And these two have surprised us before--a number of times.
Donegal Browne

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