Monday, October 20, 2008

What do Pale Male and Lola Do? More on Sparrows vs Bluebirds and "The Ravenmaster's Secret"

Lola on the Fifth Avenue nest, 4-17-08, D. Browne

A Brown-tail that looks a lot like Thunder has appeared in Tulsa after a nearly two month run without a sighting of her. Catbird of the Tulsa Forum sent in a question-


Would Thunder have already left for southern climes if she was going to or is her current presence in the Kay and Jay territory an indication that she will probably stay the winter?


From the sounds of things, I'd say Red-tails don't migrate south from Tulsa. Kay and Jay are still around. There must be your typical high urban prey base in town as they're still in residence. So there is no reason for Thunder to leave unless she's struck with wanderlust. Red-tails can tolerate reasonably cold weather if they have enough food. Tulsa, with all it's parks and the river area, may be one of the raisins in the raisin bread spots where Red-tails from all over come to spend time in the winter as there is plenty to eat.

Remember that in Central Park in winter, we have had a half dozen juvenile RTs from somewhere besides Central Park that appear and stay until spring. And as there is plenty of food for all, they all hunt the Ramble and the adults don't start drawing lines in the sand about territory until breeding season starts up. And even then they have a tendency to start out just herding the juveniles out of their main nesting area instead of screaming and getting scary.

If that is Thunder, whatever others may say, I believe her parents will recognize her and go easy.

One year while Lola was sitting eggs and Pale Male was doing guard duty, an RT somehow managed to fly in and perch on the roof of 927 just to the right of the nest. (See photo. The roof edge is not at all far from the nest so it really could have been a big deal.) That is weird behavior in the first place, the perching part. PM and L didn't do the usual routine to blow away unwanted visitors. Often Lola streaks off the nest screaming in a very scary way during brooding, and PM goes to the nest and stands over the bowl. Sometimes raking the twigs with his talons. And then depending on the situation they may even trade places several times if it is an extended siege to spell each other or both go after the intruders leaving the nest unattended for a minute or two.

In this case, Pale Male flew up to the roof, landed a few feet from the visitor and did a scary posture, and a little jerk forward with his body. The visitor who I am convinced was a son from a previous year, just did body language that said "Oh, Whoa, sorry." and took off. PM didn't even chase him.

So if that is Thunder, and the belly band certainly looks like hers, she'll learn the rules when the time comes and stay the required distance away while her parents nest. By the end of this nesting season Thunder may well be in the market for a mate of her own. Let's hope she finds a handsome hawk to bond with who has a dandy territory in Tulsa. As she was hatched on a structure she could open up a whole new unmined resource of nest sites, as choosing a building will seem perfectly natural to her.

4-17-08, Pale Male comes off the eggs and Lola makes sure everything is as she left it before resuming her duties. D. Browne

From contributor Pam Greenwood in Maryland, who has had her own experiences with House Sparrows vs Bluebirds when it comes to nest boxes--

Hi Donna,

I was interested to see your postings about bluebirds and house
sparrows. I monitor a bluebird trail at a nearby golf course, and
house sparrows are the bane of my existence. As you know, they are
not native, being brought here by some well-meaning fools who wanted
America to have every species mentioned in Shakespeare's works. The
are very aggressive cavity nesters and will peck to death other
species trying to use the same nest boxes. This is well-documented.
House wrens will pierce the eggs of other birds if they want the nest
box but house sparrows will kill the nesting adults - hence making
the box unusable for everyone. In the spring, there are never enough
nesting boxes for cavity nesters. The only solution I have heard of
- apart from murdering the house sparrows - is to trap them and clip
their wings. When this is done, especially to the murdering males,
they become less aggressive and don't nest. This method was
developed by a local Maryland bluebird expert. I used it last summer
to good effect. It does not harm the sparrows - they can still fly
well. It does take work to trap them successfully. I am listing the
website where this method is described. If you want bluebirds, you
have to save them from house sparrows.

Bluebirds do not migrate here in Maryland and they look for
birdhouses where they can gather together on cold nights for warmth.

Pam Greenwood

I'd no idea that House Sparrows were such a severe problem when it came to stealing Bluebird nesting boxes. Here in Wisconsin it's the House Wrens and Tree Swallows that tend to take them over.

And from Jackie, also of the Tulsa Forum, a book recommendation for any children you have in your life who are over twelve.

To tell you the truth, I'm very tempted to get a copy for myself!

Hi Donna,

One more bit about the unkind ravens. Tonight I stumbled across a children's book that was too intriguing to go unmentioned. It is The Ravenmaster's Secret: Escape from the Tower of London. I am attaching an image from Barnes and Noble's website, in addition to the following review (also from that site):

Eleven-year-old Forest Harper leads a life unlike most other boys growing up in 17th century England. As the son of the prestigious royal Ravenmaster, who is responsible both for guarding the prisoners of the infamous Tower of London and for caring for the nine legendary ravens that reside within the Tower's wall, Forest has grown up under the shadow of "The Bloody Tower" all of his life. As an inhabitant of the Tower, Forest has difficulty igniting common boyhood friendships, and his only friends are a rat catcher named Ned, whose work supplying food for the ravens often brings him by the Tower, and his favorite raven, Tuck, who stays constantly by his side. All of his life, Forest has dreamt of one day escaping the stifling walls of the Tower and "proving his courage" to the world in wild and fantastic adventures and battles, which he envisions in his imagination through the use of an old, clouded spyglass. When a young and beautiful Jacobite prisoner implores Forrest for his help before she is sent to the gallows, he finally gets his chance. Woodruff prefaces her novel with a historical background to facilitate comprehension for her younger readers, and also adjoins a glossary of 17th century terms for further understanding. A riveting, emotional plot, set within a surprisingly historically accurate context makes for an appealing and intellectual read. 2003, Scholastic, Ages 12 up.

Ronnie Ficco, Children's Literature

How about that--history, avian lore, intrigue and adventure--all in a children's book. And yet another sort of escape from the Tower of London.

Thanks again,
Jackie (Tulsa Hawk Forum)

Yes, but do they then go and dismantle TV antennas. Let's hope not. But I'll tell you, I'm awfully tempted to get a copy of this book for myself. I could use a good adventure that includes Ravens, The Tower of London, and Jacobites.

Donegal Browne

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