Monday, November 03, 2008

Is It Thunder???

Photo Cheryl Cavert-Possible Thunder

In October, Tulsa Hawkwatcher Cheryl Cavert, came across a hawk, that looked to her mind very much like Thunder, the daughter of Kay and Jay Red-tail.

Thunder hatched from the KJRH TV Tower nest in the 2008 season. The Tulsa Watchers had been looking for Thunder without any confirmed sightings for some months and the Hawk Forum was very excited that perhaps Thunder had come back to Tulsa after a brief vacation.

What about age? Is this hawk the proper age to be Thunder?

We can all see the light eyes, and Cheryl also checked the tail. It was brown. Therefore it's a first year. The proper age to be Thunder.

Can we take a shot at the sex of this hawk? To me the skull shape looks female. I'm not sure how to explain it, but often I find that females have a more "hawk-ish" shape to their faces. You know how Pale Male looks more round in the face? And shorter beak to eye from the front? Well, look up at P. Thunder. To me in a female the beak to eye proportion looks narrower and longer.

Next, look at P. Thunder's "ankle". Though unable to put a gauge on the bird to check it looks thicker than a usual males. Therefore I'm going for female. She also has that robust look of females.

" Possible Thunder" was sighted just past where the Tulsa watchers have tentatively placed the boundary of her parent's territory.,-95.983772&spn=0.019486,0.06815&t=h&z=14

From Jackie Dover, Tulsa's Map Mavin--
This link takes you to the Tulsa Redtailed Hawks Map. All the red markers represent sightings of the KJRH hawks (and possible sightings). The list on the left of the screen presents them in chronological order. You can scroll down to find the various sightings. Click on any marker, and you get a text box and any photos giving specifics.The possible latest sightings of Thunder were on October 16. Catgirl reported two consecutive sightings that evening in the same general vicinity, possibly both Thunder. The red markers mapping them are # 24 and 25. Only # 25 has photos.There had also been other un-ID'd sightings on Sept. 26 and 27 (markers # 22 and 23) but the photos seems not to show clearly whether that was an adult or juvenile, or even the same hawk (though the location was almost identical). So we don't know who that was.

We have often suspected that juveniles in NYC set up shop their first year in areas of deep prey base near their parent's territory or natal territory as it is familiar ground and they know the necessary hunting techniques for the local prey.

Screen Capture by Tulsa Watcher Donna Johnson from the Hawk Cam courtesy of KJRH TV.
Here note the pigmentation of the feathers. Due to the nature of feathers, light, and cameras, color isn't always reliable. More reliable is the position and ratio of dark and light. The top of Thunder's head is similar to the top of the shoulder as is P. Thunder's.

Helpfully, Thunder started with a definite spotted belly band and seems to have kept it. No thick streaks or "paint drippings" for a belly band on this bird. The same as P. Thunder.

Another example of the spotted band plus note the white strip between the darker head and darker wings. In some birds there is a definite continuation of the head "color" down the chest and shoulders. In other birds such as Thunder that isn't the case. Thunder has a few streaks not full pigmentation there. Not the neck of P. Thunder.

Look at the difference in "color" due to light when this photo and the next are compared. Note the streaks on the neck.

Likely late afternoon light has brought up the orangey-brown glow. Her distinctive white eyebrow is also quite apparent. Compare with P. Thunder below.

A profile photo of P. Thunder by Cheryl Cavert.
In the top photo P. Thunder's white shoulder strip isn't apparent but when she turns her head as in this photo. There it is.
Photo Cheryl Cavert
In this photo of Thunder the similar beak head proportion isn't that apparent.

Thunder, August, 2008, Cheryl Cavert
But as she matures, here in the August shot her personal ratio is appearing.
Photo Cheryl Cavert
As fledgling Thunder's neck feathers blow up one can see the beginnings of the more mature bird's neck streaks.
If you'll remember there was a time period when both Kay and Thunder seemed to disappear and Jay was left holding the fort. He could be seen up high surveying the territory on and off but neither Kay or Thunder seemed to be in the area. Then about the time that Kay and Jay appeared together on the nest, around October 16th.
Jackie notes that Cheryl's sightings were October 16th for P. Thunder. Did Kay and Thunder head out of town to learn less urban hunting techniques? And when Kay headed back to Jay and the nest, Thunder tagged along. We'll never know.
We haven't the only definitive I.D., that of a band, but I'm as sure as I can be in this situation that P. Thunder and Thunder are the same hawk.
Many thanks to Cheryl Cavert, Donna Johnson, Jackie Dover, and Catbird for their grand efforts, accumulating data, their sharing of knowledge, and their tireless help in sorting out the mystery hawk.
Donegal Browne


Sara said...

Donna, do you notice the difference in the eyes? Not so much the color, but a "wild-eyed" look vs. a "kind and gentle" look? It seems that most of the early Thunder pics have the "kind" look" but latest ones of P Thunder the "wild-eyed" ones. Is it significant? Just a difference in the hawks alertness at the time of the shot? Or something more. I can almost always tell Pale Male by his eyes, his demeanor, first.

Donegal Browne said...


I'm so glad you brought "the eyes" up. You're right, very astute. Alertness, focus, and interest is definitely part of what you are seeing.

In the latest photograph of Thunder she is actively focused in on something, most likely prey, at that moment and I'd say she was actively hunting. Notice her crop, it is relatively flat and it's likely time for a meal.

As we know, Thunder no longer gets delivery from her parents when it's mealtime so her focus is all about prey. Prey to catch that moment but also memorizing prey patterns for later use.

Also Thunder's face has changed since she was an eyass and fledgling. As I mentioned she is getting her adult look, which makes her look more intense. Her face and head have become more angular, "hawky" as I've said, and less rounded. The very light eyes of a brown-tail also add to the intensity of the look.

A young bird has bigger darker eyes in relation to her size, a roundish head, and kind of a cute snubbed beak. It's the look that many young have, whether furred or feathered, including humans, that we and they as mature members of our species are wired to nurture.

Pale Male still has a little of that look, as do, in my opinion, more males than female hawks.

Perhaps that is part of the reason that female hawks, who are bigger after all, don't do in their mates when they are annoyed by them. There is just that whiff of necessary to nurture feeling.

And hawks of both sexes differ in their hunting intensity. Pale Male is and Tristan was a patient,relaxed, stealth hunter. They don't get rambunctious, edgy, or, obvious. They wait patiently until exactly the right moment and BAM! The prey rarely know what hit them.

It's not that females aren't stealth hunters, they often are. And males doen't do muscle hunting, they sometimes do but females being bigger tend, I think, do more of it. The running down and grabbing of bigger prey such as rabbits, for instance.

Thanks for the great quesion!

sally said...

Thanks Donna! BTW, I signed this one Sara-I get myself confused in how certain people know me, having been named Sara and called Sally all my life! I use Sara on offical or relatively annonymous stuff, Sally is more personal. But lately I have been confusing people. I am one and the same, amateur bird watcher from Kentucky! Sorry for the confusion.

Donegal Browne said...

No problem. As most everyone has noticed, I go by two names as well.

One official/professional and the other just a whole lot easier for most people to say and spell.