Thursday, June 12, 2008

Houston Street Nest Green Space-What to Do?

During my first visit to the Houston St. nest, I became extremely concerned about the lack of branching opportunities in the green space to which the eyasses would typically land on their maiden flights.
(See post of March 29, 2008 )

Looking at the urban nests in New York City, it becomes apparent that an adjacent green space seems to be one of a Red-tailed Hawk pairs criteria for nest site selection.

But it looks to me that it's one of those cases in which the parents have a biological urge to have a green space across from the nest but the particulars, especially in the case of young parents, aren't at all clear. Red-tails are not hard wired for exact behavior, it's one of the reasons they are so wonderfully adaptive in the first place, but it does mean they have to learn from experience which answer to their urge works best.

Therefore, the Houston pair has a green space but some of the optimum amenities of a green space are missing. In this case the branching opportunities necessary for fledgling safety-- like shrubbery cover, and small trees leading to big trees.

But as we know the city has very few optimum nesting sites that fit all important raptor criteria and it's a case of beggars can't be choosers if you are young Red-tail parents in NYC. As the best sites are taken by already nesting pairs new nesters may choose a nest site which we know may bring trouble to fledglings. We as humans have two choices.

The first is to do nothing about the problems of the green space and face the consequences which may include the eyasses being removed because neighbors or local officials deem the environment unsafe for the young raptors.

The second is to work with the neighborhood and managers of the green space previous to the fledging in order to educate and to find ways to improve the environment so that partially unflighted eyasses have ample opportunity to branch to a safe height and out of danger. Danger which can include uneducated humans, dogs, cars, entanglement, and things we haven't even thought of yet.

This is Little from the Trump Parc nest of Charlotte and Pale Male Jr. in 2005, sitting on the top of a lamp post in Central Park, and pleased as punch at actually making it to the perch. He'd been off the nest 6 days at this point in his life. Before making it to Central Park he spent a number of days working on his flight skills but in relative privacy.

See Little on the railing? The first days off the nest were spent branching amongst the various surfaces on the rooftops below the Trump Parc and flying laterally from one rooftop to another.
The tops of buildings in New York City tend to be unpeopled, well, except for the hawkwatchers in this case and are therefore relatively safe for young hawks.

The Houston green space tends to be very peopled at various points in the day.
Now it's true the Houston St. eyasses could branch off the ground by going up the playground equipment but she would be sure to be noticed. Would everyone enjoy her from a distance or not?
Another thing to note is that the yard area is fenced off from the sidewalk, which could be helpful for eyasses but the branching opportunities that do exist don't lead anywhere.
Here is Little again. He is on the ground in Central Park but behind him are shrubs and small trees that can get him off the ground and into the trees.
Once Little and his sister, Big, made it to Central Park they admittedly spent a good deal of time walking around on the ground, though in Central park there are areas which are cordoned off from people. Charlotte and Pale Male Jr. realized this and lured their toward those areas.
Still these young raptors eventually spent time standing in the middle of sidewalks while people had to walk round them, perched on cars and participated in any number of somewhat scary activities.
Little once walked over to a park bench which held a sleeping homeless man and began to investigate the guys plastic bags of belongings. The hawkwatchers herded him away. He sat on the stone wall and watched the cars and horses go by. He perched on a bridge parapet and scanned the passers-by at waist height. He walked around on the grass and killed rocks and sticks. He dropped his food in the middle of pedestrian paths and then wandered around looking for it.
How do I know this? Because the hawkwatchers, many who had seen any number of fledgings previously, were monitoring these fledglings.

So not only were there few to none experienced hawkwatchers to monitor the fledglings but the tall trees at the Houston green space have no reachable branches. This is a huge problem as the few shorter trees, see the evergreen, that could be used lead only to the small ledge on the building, not to a tree branch.

Will an eyass fit between the bars if grounded on the wrong side?
What if the Houston pair use this nest site again?
Now it would be great that if by next season all sorts of foliage, and bushes, and little trees could be acquired, planted, and convinced to live in the shade of all the tall trees and under heavy foot traffic, but as Kermit the Frog said in another context, "It's not easy being green."
So what is the easiest way to make this area fledgling friendly?
I've been thinking about this for some time-- now before you start sniggering, give the upcoming suggestion some thought and if you've a better way I'm all for it, please send it in, but my suggestion is a good number of 8 inch wide or so ladders tall enough to lean out at a slant from the bottom branches of the trees.
Yes, yes, I know it sounds silly but a fledgling is perfectly capable of hop flapping up something like that. Of course neighborhood watchers would still be needed to keep the little guys out of the street, but if they had access to the trees perhaps they wouldn't end up having to spend their first few weeks off the nest away from their parents.
In fact it wouldn't hurt if a number went up right now for the benefit of the third eyass to use when she comes off the nest.

1 comment:

Amy said...

I've been reading about the Houston St. fledges on various blogs for the past few weeks. Thank you for posting about the area and the problems the fledges there face. Good comparison with what Big & Little's experienced a few years ago.