Saturday, June 14, 2008




I'm posting now, we'll have the explanation of the bugs below at a later date

Eldest, 2006, after having branched up into a tree, considers a hop-flap to a gargoyle.

Ta Da! It works and now she considers going back to the tree. Practice makes perfect. All of which the first Inwood Fledge is about to take on.

Bruce Yolton forwarded this sighting from Jessica. It's quite exciting as the nest seemed so quiet that at one point the eyasses were thought to have died.

Hello everybody,

A newly fledged hawk was blundering around near the Inwood Nature Center this morning, being ogled by morning joggers and dive-bombed by grackles. When I left, it was resting on the ground at the base of an oak. A dogwalker promised to stay and keep an eye on the situation until the rangers got there at 8 a.m. This is really exciting, since we'd been unable to catch any glimpses of movement on or around the nest for weeks!


And Fledgling 3 came off the Houston and D nest, around 4pm on Friday. Unfortunately there is still nothing in place for her to branch up on. I suggested skinny ladders or 2 x 4s but Katherine wrote in with an absolutely marvelous idea for seasons to come.

Thanks for this very interesting post. (See next post down. D. B.) I think your idea is a good one for the short-term. I have not been to the site nor am I an experienced bird watcher but, for what it's worth, I have another thought--one that is possibly more long-term. The Parks Dept has started the Million Trees program in which they are hoping to plant one million trees within the next ten years or so. We can request that trees (evergreen, shorter) be planted in this area for the many reasons that you list. If we had enough people request this, and perhaps some of you that are more experienced with the hawks and location could provide more specifics in your request, we may be able to get some help for these young raptors for the long-term.

The web site is

Let me know what you think!


Katherine I think it's brilliant!

In case the above gave you the creepy crawlies, a finishing photo from talented Central Park photographer Eleanor Tauber of a Green Heron at Azalea Pond.

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.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Garage Boy Robin, Baby Sparrows, and a Clutch of Mourning Doves

3:05:34pm As some of you may remember, I've been waiting for Garage Boy the fledgling Robin to vacate the garage. This has gone on for some days. Mom and Dad have been delivering tasty worms to the rafters and Garage Boy has been idyllically happy. I have not been idyllically happy because I don't want to accidentally squash Garage Boy with the car, or lawn mower, or other machines of Baby Robin destruction that lurk in garages. To say nothing of the fact that Chewy the Chipmunk has total access to all the bird seed in the world, well his world anyway, with the garage door open.

Therefore when I heard lusty vocalizations from a parent to a Robin chick that sounded further away than the usual of the last few days, looked out, and was pleased to see Garage Boy standing in the front yard with Dad.

3:06:02pm Dad took off around the corner to the backyard. G.B. gave me a look and then scrambled off after him.

3:06:28pm I watched as the two of them headed for the garden and it's freshly cultivated, moist, and wormie soil. At last G. B. was going to get some training in nightcrawler nabbing and I was going to be able to close the garage door. As to Chewy, he'll have to make do with the pound or so a day of seed he stuffs into his cheek pouches under the bird feeder.

3:52:24pm I noticed several sparrows sitting quite still in an evergreen in the park. In fact, one appeared to be napping.

3:52:37pm Aha! It's a nursery and here comes Mom. She went back and forth several times scrupulously feeding each chick in succession, no matter that one kept trying to jump his turn.

3:54:02pm Then she noticed me, sat between me and the chicks, and stared until I left. Yesterday I'd seen, or at least thought I'd seen, it wasn't much more than a quick glance before it fled, a juvenile Mourning Dove on the picnic table and wondered if it could be one belonging to Doorstep Dove and Friend. Since the Cooper's Hawk has made things more dangerous in the area, the bird parents have been keeping their chicks much more hidden than they did last season.

7:53:00pm Therefore today when I looked out, there was no question, this was definitely a young Mourning Dove fledgling. In fact a very young fledge, see the speckles on her breast? And typically there is no blue skin around the eyes yet.

7:54:12pm Then a minute late, lo and behold, here came another from under the picnic table. No speckles so the slightly older sibling of the first one but of the same clutch. They both pecked seeds very nicely without them falling back out of their beaks. They'd learned well and I hadn't even seen them yet. Very sneaky. They padded around eating for an hour.

9:01:30pm Then I walked past the door too rapidly and my movement made them crouch and freeze.

9:01:37pm And here's one of this season's tiny baby bunnies. The doves have been here for awhile where are their parents? Duh, why not look where Doorstep and Friend traditionally sit to watch over their young.

9:05pm And there he is in the Maple tree, keeping watch. When startled a young Mourning Dove freezes. If this is the wrong reaction for whatever the danger might be, the sentinel parent will take off from his perch and then that is the cue for the young ones to take off as well. Where is Doorstep?

9:12pm Then to my amazement, another Mourning Dove fledgling toddled into view. It's quite rare, but every now and again Mourning Doves lay three eggs. This season it looks like not only did Doorstep lay three eggs but she and Friend managed to rear all three as well. Excellent job.
Still no Doorstep, but having laid three eggs, brooded them, and dealt with three nestlings, I'm betting that Doorstep has been having the pleasure of going to roost early these days and letting Friend take the late shift.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

UPDATE--Houston St. Red-tailed Eyasses

Unofficial Eyass Watch at The Cathedral 2006: After watching since early morning, by noon fifteen-year-old Samantha Browne-Walters has fallen peacefully asleep on the curbside gravel, leaving the watching to others for awhile.

Fledge One of the Houston nest is still under the care of a Wildlife Rehabilitator who has a surrogate mom hawk who will feed the eyass and avoid human imprinting in the
people-equal-food category. We hope for a timely release.

New York City Audubon Director of Conservation Susan Elbin is working toward a new protocol with the city in regards to fledged eyasses. The effort is being made but as we all know the wheels of bureaucratic New York City grind slowly.

Yet again, we see the imperative need of an Organized Eyass Watch for each Red-tail nesting site which does not face a large three tiered vegetative green space that allows branching up from the ground to the branches of tall trees for the normal phase of several days in an urban raptor's life in which a newly fledged eyass cannot gain the flight elevation needed to reach tree branch height.

And of course we must all pitch in to share our love of city Red-tails with the public and help educate our neighbors about their normal behavior and needs.

In from Carol Vinzant,, a youtube link of the two eyasses on the Houston St. nest from yesterday.

Donna Browne

Garage Boy-- the Young Robin in the Garage Who Won't Go Away, Thompkins Squirrels, and Houston Eyasses

At around 11am this morning, I moved an old chair in the garage and was startled by a baby bird alarm noise and struggled flapping. Thank goodness I hadn't squashed him. An immature Robin with no tail to speak of and a very new set of wings flapped up into the rafters of the garage.

Oh dear, I wonder if his parents know where he is? I hear a Robin call from outside. I go into the front yard and pretend to weed the front flower bed. It has a good view of the driveway. An adult Robin with a worm in his mouth nervously scuttles back and forth in front of the open garage. The adult calls again. My new boarder, Garage Boy calls in response and Dad flies in with the worm and flies out without it.

Yes, his parents do know where he is and the fledgling seems quite happy to stay there. I go back in the house. Perhaps he'll go with Dad the next time he shows up if I'm not around.
11:55am I come back out the garage. I don't see him. Maybe he did leave.

That's new. I guess he hasn't left yet or left only very recently.

I know! I'll open the back door to the garage and maybe he'll go out that way. No deal. Garage Boy settles in to watch the other birds in the back yard. He isn't tempted. It's like fledgling TV, and he zones out on it. I hear a parent out front calling. I go into the house so he can eat.

1:09pm Still here but in a new position on a very large cardboard box. Geez, I don't know, the view into the back yard can't be all that terrific from that corner of the garage.
2:27pm Garage Boy perched on the a chicken crate. Why my parents have a chicken transporter in the top of the garage I've no idea. G.B. is doing the baby Robin freeze. If you point your beak up and don't move, you're invisible. ???
I have errands so I very slowly and carefully creep the car out of the garage, and of course, leave the garage door open. He has to eat after all. Good thing, Milton doesn't have any theft to speak of.
5:33pm I return and my buddy is in a new position but yup, he's still here. And he really isn't
very old, no wonder he's nearly tail-less.
6:17pm Ditto. I have to leave again. Door remains open.
7:30pm I return. It's getting dark. Where is he? Can't see him, so I wrestle the muddy turkey blind tent out of the car--and I mean wrestle, that I've been using as a photography blind. There are adult Robin alarm vocalizations from the front yard. Hmmm, G.B. must still be in here and Dad is distressed by the blind that keeps popping open on his metal tension strips. I'm pretty distressed by it myself by it.
To make a long story short---the garage door is still open. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

An update on the three squirrels, wildlife rehabilitator Carol Vinzant released in Tompkins Square Park. She says she’ll visit them daily for awhile to check on them. And an answer to the reader question about Squirrel houses.

This morning I think I saw Doe. He’s the one with big eyes. I threw some nuts and he went to hide under a bush. Seems about right for Doe. Then, a while later, I saw two juveniles around one of the houses I put up. They were wrestling just like my babies did. The trouble with id’ing them is that there are a few other juveniles in the area. When they were in the cage or in my hands it was easy: doe had big eyes, kung fu chattered, shadow was the girl. Now it ‘s hard.

Last year’s batch was easier to find. They were the only juveniles and they’d come up and jump on me. It’s a different dynamic with this crowd, partly because they’re 2 boys, I think.

Gray, red and fox squirrels have two kinds of houses, dreys and cavities. (There are some ground squirrels out west that live in borrows.) Generally the cavity is the winter house and the drey is the summer house. They might find or expand the cavity that happened naturally or one that was abandoned by a bird.
A drey is a messy looking clump of leaves. They crawl into the middle of it. It looks like a giant, sloppy bird’s nest. Each squirrel, especially a lactating mother, may have several homes at once. If the mother thinks there’s something wrong with her current house—either predators or parasites—she’ll pick up the babies by the neck and move them to another.

They keep their houses pretty clean. Or clean by squirrel standards. They don’t go to the bathroom in the house. They do bring in all kinds of leaves, branches, moss, plastic bags for insulation.

The squirrel houses people put up come in many styles. A rural mailbox is fine. You can have a pine box. I’ve used cedar, though some people think that’s not good for their sense of smell. I’ve remodeled old insulated milk delivery boxes for them.
Generally they like their door/hole near the top. They will mouth around the door to mark it. They will also sometimes chew through the sides---I think they think they’re giving themselves a room addition. What falls apart first is the floor, so I’m trying different ways to drain and reinforce the floor.


I've nothing to report other than what everyone already knows. The first fledgling off the Houston nest, having been seen on the ground, ended up being "rescued" by Animal Control. The eyass is healthy and has now gone to a wildlife rehabilitator.
My concern is that Fledge Two and Three might have the same inadvertent adventure. If I were in New York City, I'd run off some informational flyers and pass them to the local hawkwatchers to pass to neighbors so that unless there is a true emergency no one will call 911 when the normal part of Red-tail young behavior, being on the ground, occurs once again. Perhaps someone currently in town might like to do that.
An eyass should be watched to make sure she doesn't end up in traffic of course, but there is a walled park up the street that might make a dandy training area if the fledglings could get there.
Donegal Browne

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Carol Vinzant on Eating Habits of Hand Reared Squirrels

Squirrel Photographs
by Carol Vinzant

Blog contributor Karen Anne Kolling asked, " Do hand-raised squirrels know how to get food in the wild after reading about Wildlife Rehabilitator Carol Vinzant"s newly released trio of human raised squirrels. and Carol responded with this explanation.

Rehabbed squirrels will generally do ok in the wild because a surprising amount of their behavior is instinctive and because they can eat a wide variety of plant matter and bugs.

I’m sure, however, there are food gathering and storage tricks—and more importantly social behaviors--that they would learn from watching their moms. I’d liken hand-raised squirrels to kids that are home-schooled by someone who is really socially inept.

But there’s a lot they seem to be born knowing. They’ll start gnawing on nuts and fruit even before their teeth are ready. Rehabbers put containers of dirt in their cages and they get right to digging and burying nuts with no lesson.

Before I started rehabbing them, I assumed their diet was nuts, seeds and maybe some fruit. A huge part of their diet is tree bark and the layer just under it. They eat bugs, buds, pine cones and lot of other things. When I’m raising them I’m always on the lookout for fresh branches, which they quickly strip of bark and buds. Their seasons of food scarcity are winter and late summer.

All that said, I’m still worried about the ones I release. “They’ll never be full squirrel,” one expert told me. There’s some disagreement on this. I release my rehabbed city squirrels in city parks. To me, that gives them a safety net of all those people either purposely or inadvertently feeding them. I figure they’ve been city squirrels for 100-some generations and have probably evolved with city park skills. But others release them in wild areas.

Carol Vinzant207 East 5th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 979 - 5327

Though only a nominal improvement on my first photograph of the Great Crested Flycatcher at Thresherman's Woods, at least in this one the cinnamon hued tail and wing feathers of the species are visisble.

And the Irises are in bloom,

As are the Daisies.
Donegal Browne

Snapping Turtle vs Car Season and The Gracklery (continued)

My cell phone rang and it was Gaylord Hooker, a local man who knows my interest in nature, calling to tell me that his son had rescued a very large snapping turtle off the highway and was going to take him to the pond he'd been heading for. Did I want to see the turtle before he went? You bet.

When I arrived Mr. Snapping Turtle, aka. Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina, was slowly making his way across the yard in a slow languid turtle kind of way. And Gaylord wasn't exaggerating one bit. This is one big turtle; well into the 14 inch range. Turtle kept his steady and stately pace and was progressing but not wanting him to have to cross yet another road a box was found, turtle had already relieved himself in the car several times and further events on the carpet were hoped to be avoided. But when Mr. T was lifted to go in--his Dr. Hyde side came to the fore.

Now yes the big jaws are a little on the scary side, but it's the combination with the quick lunge that really gets you. When a snapping turtle feels threatened, his hind quarters go up and his body tenses like a compressed spring. The pressure is released and WHAAAAA! He's very easily in your face if you happen to be bending down and looking too close when he releases.
According to the Wisconsin DNR this is "the largest and heaviest turtle species in the state. Its carapace can vary from light brown to black in color an d it has a saw-toothed back edge.}

"The tail supports a row of jagged dorsal scales and is nearly as long as the carapace." It's really
quite the appendage I must say.

"The head has large jaws and a pointed snout with a prominent beak. Its long neck, powerful jaws, and aggressive behavior have rightly earned the snapping turtle its name. "
They can say that again.
Look at his plastron, it's very reduced compared to what many other turtles have. He's just the little connectors on the sides, his legs are completely exposed under there and he has only a center breast plate. I suppose he doesn't need as much armor as his ability in the defense department allows him to do with less as he doesn't have to rely completely on his shell for protection.
As to how he makes his living, the DNR continues "Snapping Turtles live in most aquatic habitats but prefer ponds, lakes, and the backwaters of rivers. Both a predator and a scavenger, the snapper feeds on aquatic animals and plants. they consume almost any animal they can catch, although studies show that their reputation as a duckling predator has been greatly exaggerated. They also feed on slow-swimming, small fish, or fresh dead fish. Snapping turtles are important top-line predators in aquatic food chains."
So Snapper went into the box, we and the box went into the car and off we went to the neighboring farmer's pond.

Lifted carefully from the box on the verge of the pond, he just glared at us for a number of minutes. Then a deer bolted out of cover just behind , I turned, saw the deer, turned back to the turtle and he'd already disappeared into the water. Where no doubt he'll be looking to propagate more snapping turtles.
Though their name says they are common they are far less so than previously . They are often the victims of all the roads and cars now in rural areas. As a result Wisconsin has done a good deal of work educating the public that when they see one of these guys crossing the road, to pull over, pick them up (CAREFULLY) and get them to the other side of the road. No, not the side they came from, as some people did at first, but the other side as they are going somewhere in particular not just mindlessly meandering.

To recap, somehow at various times of day or other provocation, the Grackle flock adults
convince their progeny to stay in the hedge as a group. Interestingly they have different styles of begging and as one might suspect after awhile they start to adventure out on their own. I took these photos though a screen from inside the house so sharpness isn't as crisp as one might like.

While all the other young Grackles are vocalizing or climbing around in the hedge, Gapper here just opens his mouth and leaves it that way with out sound.

This fledgling has escaped the hedge and looks to be looking for something to get into.

He pecks at something in the grass. They're good peckers but they often at this age choose things that are too big and not particularly edible but they're making an effort so that counts for something.

See? He's shifted a little but still has that maw exposed.

A binoc look, which shows the beginnings of a typical species expression.
Then a look in the eyes typical of many a baby bird.
Donegal Browne