Saturday, June 28, 2008

Lead Poisoned Fledgling, Red-tail and Prairie Expert John Blakeman and South African Film Maker Adam Welz Comment

Houston Tiercel on Tuesday sits with his nictitating eyelids closed for some minutes.





I have for several Ohio park districts done programs on prairie management for working supervisors and naturalists. In each case I asked them to consider that unless they personally don't change their ways, the public will come to the rather correct perception that these naturalist types self-appoint themselves as the nature priesthood, authorized to go in places the public isn't, allowed to do things with wild animals the public isn't, and just simply present themselves as holier than all lesser others.

I've seen this in virtually every public natural park system, from (obviously) NYC, down to the smallest township or village park with a nature trail. The "naturalists" come to believe that they know more than anyone about nature and the species therein -- always with the final result that the public just doesn't participate in parks natural history events. The condescending attitudes are so coldly presented and perceived by the public.

And the most disconcerting examples of this nature priesthood arrogance is when these self-important jerks try to tell people like you and me how to conduct our nature business. They defer to no one. They'd tell Aldo Leopold himself to change his ways and come into conformity with their narrow views.

I am a premier expert on prairie design, planting, design, and management, with 35 years of experience. Most of these characters can't even give the Latin names of three tall grasses, but they quite often tell ME how these should be planted.

Example...and I hear this one all the time. I tell parks people that if the remnants of an original prairie still exist along a railroad or a fenceline, they definitely need to go out in Sept and Oct and collect all the seeds from these remnant plants they can. Those seeds will be used to create a new, much larger local prairie of local ecotypes.

But what do the naturalists (most women, I might add) do? The claim that ethically they can only "harvest" a small fraction of the seeds. The rest must be left to "reseed" at the local spot. Crap. Prairie plants are some of the oldest living organisms in the Midwest. They are long-lived perennials and they don't "reseed" themselves. By plucking every single seed from a rare prairie plant simply does not endanger the local population. When those pluckings are used for new restoration prairies, the plants get properly (as per my directions) planted -- "reseeded." These characters just simply don't know about the reproductive life histories of prairie plants. I do. But that doesn't stop them. They have a narrow, constructed, and artificial view of natural history and it's so often almost impossible for them to divert from it. The nature priesthood.


John A. Blakeman


Hi Donna

I think it may be appropriate to point out that--

1) The Houston male has been found to have a severe infection. He probably would have died had he not been picked up. He is still not yet out of danger. (Kathy Horvath found a small injury on his leg - he may have sustained a bite from a squirrel or rat, or been injured in some other way. This may or may not have been the source of his infection.) It's very easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize those who intervene to act on behalf of the hawks, who are damned if they do and damned if they don't; if you were to have left the Houston male on the ground and he died there I'm sure your inbox would have been filled with hostile email, too.

2) The Houston female, alone, would have a harder time raising Houston chicks 2 & 3 than with the male being around. As you know, the possible release sites in that neighborhood are not ideal. The 'safe areas' are very small. There are huge roads around, construction, and a lot of people. It is legally up to Bobby Horvath to make the call whether to release the young birds back in that area, or to get them raised up and hacked off into the wild someplace safe. No hawkwatcher can make that judgment call. Any rehabber worth his/her salt will tend to release a bird into the care of its parents (besides anything else, it's much less hard work than raising the youngster and teaching it to hunt over months and months.)

3) As soon as Bobby lays his hands on a bird he is obligated to be responsible for it, and obligated to act in such a way as to maximize its well being and chances of survival. Again, there are a lot of amateurs out there who have never handled a bird, never looked after one, never made one well and released it into the wild. Bobby has done that his whole life. Rather than fling off accusatory emails in all directions, people may do better by learning something more about the difficult choices that need to be made in these circumstances. Bobby is not a wild animal trader. He does not sell animals into captivity. His aim is to see Houston 2 & 3 fly free under circumstances that maximize their survival chances. Although it's sad that the Houston St neighborhood is down to one hawk, Bobby cannot ethically be releasing birds back into a situation where their chances of survival are lower than the alternative situations, for example being raised and hacked off in a rural part of the State (his primary obligation is to the birds, not the Houston St neighborhood, or couch-potato know-it-alls who have never held a raptor). If he thinks that Houston 2 and 3 will have a good chance with only the female to raise them in that area, he will release them. If not, he won't.

4) Some people may question why, with my filmmaker hat on, I picked up Houston 3. Perhaps I should have just let the drama unfold before my camera. I certainly would have had a fantastically compelling sequence for my film! After all, I'm not a bunny-hugging animal rights activist or an avowed vegan. But I'm also a conservationist that cares about the creatures I'm involved with, and a part-time raptor biologist. (My friends laugh at how it takes me an hour longer than anyone else to drive across the Karoo, the wonderful semi-desert area in west-central South Africa, because I'm always stopping to take tortoises out of the road, or killing the half-dead ones with broken backs that have already been hit.) Houston 3 was in danger, and I could do something about it better than anyone else around. At the time it was a simple act - just get the poor guy out of the road and into safety. When I realized that safety was relative (an area filled with tens of screaming people or a dirty catbox roughly held by a gruff policeman) I picked the lesser of two evils. I certainly would have liked Houston 3 be released into the care of his parents in his neighborhood, but that wasn't possible then. As soon as I picked up Houston 3 it was like I had a contract with him, and it was then up to me to make the tough decisions as to his future under less than ideal circumstances. Again, it's very easy to sit in the bleachers and fling rotten Twinkies at the players on the court.

There are no perfect answers in these circumstances, although a lot of people will try to convince you that there are. I hope the readers of your blog will in future consider this before firing off hostile sentences in all directions.


Bobby Horvath, who is caring for the Cathedral fledgling female that has the paralysed leg and also the Houston Tiercel, sent medical reports.

As we know the Cathedral Fledge is suffering from lead poisoning. A level of 10 is considered toxic. She was found to have a level of 19.1. This is one sick bird.

A paralysed extremity is a common symptom of lead poisoning in both hawks and humans. It is called peripheral neuropathy and in this case most likely caused by brain disruption by lead and is sometimes reversible, depending on many factors.

Where did she get the lead? The Cathedral Church of St John the Divine has a lead roof. We surmise it came from there. Why hasn't it happened before? Possibly because of the activity on the lead roof. The roof is being worked on. Scaffolding has been attached as have ladders which might well break small bits off. It only takes a pin points worth or so to poison a hawk or even a child.

More on the Red-tailed Medical Care to come. Many thanks to the Horvaths for their work in attempting to save the Cathedral Fledge and the Houston Tiercel.

Donegal Browne

Friday, June 27, 2008

Red-tail Foster Parenting and Tiercel Rescue Questioned.

All photographs D. Browne
Hous has lunch delivered courtesy of his foster father, Atlas.

Hous on top of the sun roof at the pool.

Atlas watches over Hous from a tree adjacent to the sun roof.

Frequent contributor Mai Stewart has some questions--
Hi Donna --

Saw your posting today. Even tho the Houston St. male RT isn't there, the female must be around -- so wouldn't she be able to provide for H2 & H3 in East River Park?

It just seems to me that they need to be released asap -- even tho they're not bonding to a human, their current situation very different from their real life.

Has H1 been successfully adopted by the Triboro family? I didn't know this was possible -- I thought RTs always defended their territories, including from other RTs. This is very interesting, if it's happening successfully (the adoption, I mean).

And great pix of Thunder, I've loved watching him on the webcam (when he's around).



Hi Mai, good to hear from you.
As you can see from the photos, the Triborough Bridge pair are caring for Hous as if he were one of their own.

Fascinatingly, as it turns out, if a Red-tail youngster shows up in a pair's territory and she's near the age of their own, they'll foster her. Whether they know the difference or don't care even if they do, is unknown. Sometimes orphaned eyasses are even added to existing clutches on the nest and all goes well,

That said, we watched closely after the release at the beginning to make sure this wasn't going to be the one exception in anyone's experience in which an eyass wasn't accepted.

As to a female taking care of two fledglings in the absence of the male, I'm supposing that if the tiercel went missing that the mom left with two fledglings on the spot would do her best to raise both fledglings and could be successful barring all the mishaps that befall any fledgling even in the best of circumstances.

I haven't been apprised of the particular details concerning the release of H2 and H3, but I'll ask.

One thing I would be concerned about in this case though, is that no one knows as yet if the infection that downed the tiercel is communicable. If it is, the female may have it as well. Perhaps her body is fighting the infection better but she'd be put at risk of being downed herself with the stress of caring for two fledglings on her own right now. Or it might even be possible that she could infect H2 and H3 with it if she were hunting for them. It would be great to be able to discount that scenario and the cultures should be ready soon that will provide the necessary information to do that or not depending on the results.

But like everyone I'm hoping for what's best for the Houston fledges and I'm hoping that going back to their family will be the action deemed best.

The thirsty Houston Tiercel looks long and fixedly at the water in the river before his trip to the vet.

I received the following from "Concerned Urban Park Ranger" in the comments section. As others who don't read the comments might be thinking some of the same things, I've moved it to the main page for my response, which follows C.U.P.R's comments.

a concerned urban park ranger said...
First, allow me state that I know you had the kindest intentions and were not malicious in any manner. I do not doubt for one second that you are always looking out for the best for any animal in need. With the animal's best interests in mind, I know you will appreciate this advice...

Standard protocol among hawk-watchers should not include handling an animal that you've never handled before in your life. Although you may have been told over the phone how to do it, and it may have seemed simple enough, you could have seriously injured the bird or it could have seriously hurt you, end of story. I know that Adam and Bobby would agree on this. So, while it did turn out well in the end, it was a risk that probably should not have been taken no matter how dire the situation seemed to be at the time. In short, you could have mishandled the bird and injured or killed it.

Another thing to note is that you probably should not be grabbing federally-protected birds and hopping into cabs as park rangers approach you. That may be bordering on illegal activity, I am not exactly sure. If that bird died in your possession you could have theoretically been charged with a federal crime, although the judge would have likely tossed it out immediately since you were acting out of good faith. But, all legalities aside, just please note that we are all on the same side, all concerned about the welfare of animals. I was a bit disheartened to read that part of your story. While there are not many urban park rangers in the city, we have all been trained and handled raptors at one time or another, so please do not hesitate to call 311 and reach out to us. It is a part of our job, we are legally allowed to handle them, so you really should defer to us, Animal Care & Control, or the ASPCA. We all work almost exclusively with the Horvaths, so there should be no concerns.

In closing, as a hawk lover myself, I am happy the rescue went well. Congratulations as I am sure it was quite the adventure! I know it is the dream of many a hawk-watcher to handle one of these amazing creatures in a time of need, but in the future, I think it would be in the best interest of the health and well-being of the hawk to let those trained and experienced handle it. If a hawk is about to be run over by a car, by all means move it off the road, but if it is in a controlled environment and has not moved in some time, there is no harm in keeping an eye on it and calling the appropriate authorities who would arrive there quickly. I know that you did talk with the Horvaths, so perhaps you just did not know you could have reached out to us as well. Consider this a formal introduction! We are here to help and any injured hawk will be taken care of properly. The last thing that I want to happen is for a hawk to be hurt further or die from unnecessarily induced stress.

All warnings and advice aside, thanks again for caring so much about these magnificent creatures. It is hard to imagine where hawks would be without folks like you. With cooperation, we can continue to do our best to ensure a healthy future for any and every raptor. Take care.
Friday, June 27, 2008 11:21:00 AM EDT

Hello A.C.U.P.R,

Thank you for your letter. I see your point that standard protocol for Hawk watchers possibly should not include handling wild creatures, though in the case of a fledgling in the middle of a busy city street who won't allow itself to be herded, it could be a tough call. I suspect it comes down to a personal judgement call on the part of the individual person involved as to their capabilities.

Speaking of which, not all Hawkwatchers are created equal, some have more training than others and that too is part of the picture. I trained for seven years as a field biologist. (Though I rarely mention it as someone tooting their own horn about their advanced education on their blog isn't the least bit attractive to my Midwestern soul.) And though I'd never specifically handled a Red-tailed Hawk, I've handled many other wild animals and birds, including a Great Horned Owl and a Mountain Lion that had been nicked by cars but were still reasonably lively though once again I downplayed that with my little aside on the blog. I've banded birds on government projects. I've rehabbed federally protected birds under the licenses of others as a student in Wisconsin.

Speaking of federal law, after the first time I herded a Red-tail fledgling across a street, thank goodness it allowed itself to be herded, I decided to look into the laws concerning federally protected species so I wouldn't be breaking any of them if one day I had to scoop a fledge out of harms way.

Here's what I found out. Part 1. Any citizen may rescue an animal which is in danger.

The tiercel had already had someone throw a stick, not at it but near it, to check if it could fly. What if it had been hit on that occasion or by someone else doing the same thing. It isn't as if I have the physical capabilities or legal authority to stop someone from doing something like that if they decide to be a jerk about it. Any animal in the city who cannot fend for itself is in danger. Besides the tiercel was sitting in the beating sun on a very hot piece of AstroTurf looking longingly at the water beyond the fence. This bird was dehydrating fast. It was mentally altered and decidedly grounded.

Part 2. According to federal law if a citizen does rescue a wild animal, they have the legal responsibility of taking it to a wildlife rehabilitator or vet within 24 hours.

As everyone would probably agree, a bird's condition and what to do about it often comes down to a judgement call by the people on the spot. And I had plenty of time while giving the bird a chance to recover if this were a transient problem to mentally explore the options. I had no concern that I might injure the hawk as I have confidence and a knowledge of my personal abilities, my shortcomings, and over the last four years, nearly daily observation of the species. I had spoken with Adam about the best way to proceed and he had agreed. Besides if I was a dolt and got footed it's my own fault not the hawks.

As to calling the proper authorities, there are many wonderful well trained educated cooperative Urban Park Rangers and folks who work for Animal Control but for some reason sometimes I don't run across those people when there is a problem.

Some examples: Some years ago when I lived in Brooklyn I came across a wounded Mallard hen in the Botanic Gardens. She was actively seeping blood from her neck due to what looked like a wound received from a dog attack. I looked around and saw no ranger. Eventually one appeared on the other side of the lake. I walked around the lake, carrying my tired three-year-old with me, and told him about the hen. He said, "Yes she's been there since this morning." I asked if anyone had been called or if he was going to do anything for her. He said,"No, it's just a duck." I marched back around the lake, wrapped my jacket around the mallard, tucked her under my arm, grabbed my three-year-old's hand, marched us all to the car, and took the hen to the vet.

Also in Prospect Park, I went looking for a ranger when I saw teenagers throwing branches at the swans. His response? A shrug of the shoulders. I went back and yelled at the projectile throwers. Though small, I can sometimes be scary. They left.

And then there was the time that the ranger I found had been a French major in college, could identify every bird in the park, but I strongly suspected had never touched one. She was perfectly nice but really didn't want to start touching them that day either.

Which brings us to Animal Control. Just like most groups of employees, some are terrific and some aren't. According to the report on the pick up of one of the Houston eyasses, a local resident had called 911 over concern for the fledgling as she was having rocks and sticks thrown at her. Animal Control arrived, threw a catch loop onto the fledgling's neck only and dragged her across the ground. (Which we know is improper use of a catch loop. Even with an animal as sturdy as a raccoon the loop is always supposed to be around the neck and at least one appendage to help prevent injury to the animal being saved. I wouldn't say that a catch loop is ever appropriate around the neck of a young raptor.) The fledgling was then put into a wire cage which isn't appropriate for a bird one hopes to release anytime soon as it tends to ruin the flight feathers.

After Adam rescued Houston 3 out of the street and she was taken away from him by a not terribly polite or informed officer, she was dropped off at Animal Control. Therefore instead of Adam being able to pass her directly off to Bobby when he arrived on the scene so he could look her over immediately, they had to spend time going to look for her at Animal Control. Where she was found in a wire cage.

Keep in mind also that when I wrote the blog about the rescue of the Houston tiercel that it was a story, a piece of writing. Some things are kept in and some incidents get edited out and therefore it isn't the full scenario. Plus emphasis may shift to make it more interesting for the reader.

For instance, the park rangers walking along the fence line. To tell the truth on reflection, they had on khakis but I've no idea if they were rangers or just park workers trying to decide if they needed to herbicide the vegetation along the fence as they were both 50 yards away. I was thirsty, hot, and tired. The tiercel was thirsty, hot, tired, and sick. If the workers had called to me I would have stopped, but as they didn't I went about doing what was best for the bird-- getting him off the ground, out of the sun, and to a place of far less stress. I could have approached the folks in khaki and found out if they were rangers or not but that would have taken time and entailed a lengthy explanation about the bird in the box, standing on hot AstroTurf, in the sun. Then there would have been at least another half hour of the poor tiercel inside the plastic box heating up without care or water while we waited for Animal Control.

As I've said, there are many super rangers and city employees that I've worked with and had great experiences with, but one never knows what the luck of the draw will be and therefore I tend to make a judgement on any given day and situation about what the best way to proceed is for the animal concerned.

In short, it was a judgement call and I feel okay about what I decided to do. Particularly, when I spoke to Bobby Horvath later in the day and he told me I'd saved the tiercel's life.

Donegal Browne
P.S. Hey, A.C.U.P.R, hit the contact button and slide me an email. I'd love to get to know you better.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Urban Red-tailed Hawk Update:The Lead Fledge of 114th St., Hous of Astoria Park, and Thunder of Tulsa.

Photo courtesy of the Horvaths
This is the fledgling suffering from lead poisoning that was taken into the Animal Medical Center on Tuesday, the same day that the Houston tiercel went in for treatment. She currently has a paralysed foot and leg. There is some thought that she may be one of the Cathedral fledglings, daughter of Isolde and Norman.

Can anyone recognize her from her belly band?

And an update from Bobby Horvath courtesy of Cathedral Hawkwatcher, Rob Schmunk,

The fledgling with lead poisoning is a 7 to 8 week old female found at 309 W 114 St. She has no use of her right toes at this time. There's no way to know if it is temporary or permanent damage. It could be an old nest injury, recent trauma based, or neurological damage from the lead poisoning she has as per the blood results.


I spoke with Bobby and he said once they've cured her lead poisoning her leg might come back--but that's a "might". It might not as well.

As for the Houston tiercel, because of his high white count and the fact that it will take several days to grow a culture that will tell us what he is actually suffering from, Mr. Houston is currently on an anti-fungal medication in case he has Frounce, and an anti-bacterial in case he's suffering from a bacterial infection. The medication for the tiercel by itself came with a price tag of $90. I'll find out the particulars but in the meantime give some thought to making a small donation towards our urban Red-tails care.

Eleanor Tauber took this luscious photograph in, of course, Strawberry Fields. The last few days we've had so many examples of what can be done when we work together.
IMAGINE all the things we could do and then go out with a few friends and do them.
("It's easy--All you need is love.")

Speaking of luscious photographs, here are four more from Francois Portmann. First off Hous of Astoria Park aka. Houston 1 is attacked by a Blue Jay. Note it isn't Trib who's getting it, now is it?
A clarification for any confusion, as the Triborough pair had lost their second fledge, a female to internal bleeding from hitting the asphalt below the nest, and as Houston 1 was more than ready to be released, he went to foster with the Triborough nest family when their own eyass Trib, for short, went home.

We had just confirmed to everyone's satisfaction that the Houston pair was intact, within their territory, and making morning visits to East River Park, when the male was found grounded. Thereby putting the plan to release H2 and H3 in East River Park where their parents could find them, and under the watchful eyes of the construction workers who'd been watching their parents hunt squirrels daily, on hold.

Gosh, just which eyass would be laying with his tail in the air in a tree?

Yup, that's Hous again. On the top of the diving board of course. It's hot when laying on metal in the sun, waiting for your breakfast to be served-- better to keep your head in the shade.

Hi All
This morning Atlas came to the middle dining platform around 8 am. He didn't have any food but was still there when I left to get to the train at 8:30. The babies came flying in right after - H1 on the top platform railing and Triborough on a lower side diving platform. They didn't beg and stayed where they landed. Houston pooped and preened. I didn't see Triborough do the same but he was preening and looked comfortable and alert. Still skinnier than H1 but practicing jumping and stretching a lot more.

Today, the lifeguard staff showed up for work so there will be more activity in preparation for tomorrow's opening. The pool opens to the public tomorrow - the pool's sessions are usually from 11 - 2 pm and 4 - 7 pm.
Will let you know what I see tomorrow morning.
Hope all is well with you all.

(Note: the diving area below the structure the fledglings use for breakfast is not filled with water so there isn't a danger of them falling off it and drowning. D.B.)

Little talons pressed into the bark, Hous looks longingly at something.
Trib is around but he's just much stealthier.

Screen captures of Thunder of Tulsa courtesy of KJRH-TV Tulsa
You wouldn't know this hawk was hatched on a TV TOWER or anything, now would you?

Tulsa Hawkwatcher Donna Johnson sent in these captures and an update on the Tulsa Red-tailed Hawk family.

Hello again Donna,
I thought I would send some more pictures of Thunder. Sorry I did not send them sooner. We have had some short visits from Thunder, Kay, and Jay. The local watchers have really had a good time spotting her and relaying details to us about their sightings. They seem to be staying very close to the nest tower.
In the picture of Thunder eating, that's a bird Kay had left in the nest the day before.
Donna J.

Thunder spies something.
Who says day old pigeon isn't tasty!
Donegal Browne
P.S. Hous wears the silver band and Trib wears one with red nail polish on it.

Urban Hawk Updates: Triborough, St. Johns, New Riverside Pair? Plus the Houston Tiercel

Hous of Astoria Park preens. I love the fact that like most babies with their tender skin, you can see the veins in Hous's eyelids. And because Hous is Hous he goes about preening the way he goes about everything else--with great vigor. Fluff feathers fly.

His attention is caught. He watches something with real focus.
A giant fluff feather blows in. He clamps it in his beak with the longest part coming out the left side of his beak but the wind blows it under his beak...
...and into his right eye. Just his luck.
Ouch! What now? It's not like he can use a talon to get it out.

Then Hous does something I'd never seen a hawk do before. He does a very rapid shake that looks ever so much like the kind done by a wet dog.

It works! And he's back watching squirrels as if nothing had happened. Many things do happen to Hous but he doesn't have time to let any of them bother him. He's an extremely busy bird--so much world, so little time.

A mini-Triborough Update from Astoria Park watcher and educator of the public, Jules Corkery--

This morning Hous was in the trees and Trib was not around. Then at about 8:15 he showed up at the diving or should we say dining platform! Francois showed up in the hopes of seeing breakfast served poolside.

The Cathedral Report from Hawk Watching Winkie--
Hi Donna,
Quite some story about Mr. Houston. I DO hope that he is doing well. This years is full of twist and turns for ALL! You, too! Your story just shows even more why friendly eyes are SO important. It makes me wonder again what could have possibly become of Tristan. Unfortunately, I was out of NY when he disappeared...not that I could have done much unless I was there at the right time, but I could have tried.
My sightings: Monday one of the juvies was on the Eglise de Notre Dame's roof, about 8PM. It was the slightly larger one, who's belly band looks like a triglyphs. The other juvie's belly band looks like a dart or a delta. I did not see Dart.
Isolde was on a high perch on the scaffolding near the apse and had her eye toward the north. Probably Dart was somewhere close by.Yesterday evening around 7PM, I only found Isolde on the scaffolding. Again almost in the same location as Monday.
Neither of the kids were around, but she was looking down at the other scaffolds and the roofs of the chapels the whole twenty minutes I was there. Lincoln was there later and got some good shots. And Jim, too sighted both of the kids.I think that both red-tail juvies are flying quite well, not just flap hopping.
They seem to wander more along the buildings than in the park. But this year, in addition to the scaffolding around the cathedral there is so much construction going on at the park's new playground and the density of people inside the park is larger, too. I will not be able to make it tonight, but hopefully someone else will see both of the juvies.
Today, Wednesday, Bobby Horvath picked up the Houston tiercel from the Animal Medical Center to take him home for rehabilitation. The blood work revealed a high white blood cell count indicative of infection.
No confirmation as yet but Mr. Houston may be suffering from Frounce. A very serious disease that is communicable between Hawks and Pigeons and can lead to death. It is my understanding that it's treated by antibiotics. Mr. Houston, though going for nursing and rehabilitation, is not out of the woods yet by any means.
When I took Mr. Houston over to the Animal Medical Center, there was a certain amount of confusion as coincidentally reception had just had someone else bring in another Red-tail for treatment. I asked where that bird had been picked up but was unable to find out. Bobby Horvath picked up the ball and pursued an answer for us. He left me a message today which said that the second Red-tail of yesterday at the AMC, was a large female Red-tail fledgling picked up at Riverside and 114th St.
This confirms the suspicion that there is indeed another Red-tailed Hawk nest uptown in or near Riverside Park that supports another bonded pair beyond the pair that lost their three eyasses to probable rat poison earlier this season.
This female fledgling is suffering from an injured leg which currently appears paralysed. Her prognosis is not the best but Bobby has taken her into care and will do everything he can to rehabilitate her.
So folks, it's time to go hunting for the mystery pair's nest. If there is one fledgling there may well be more.
And tomorrow, an update from Tulsa Hawk Watcher Donna Johnson, on Thunder the Wonder Red-tail.
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Photograph by Francois Portmann
7:30am I'm asleep and I haven't been asleep all that long when suddenly I hear Harrison Ford say, "I'm Indiana Jones". A bull whip cracks and the Indiana Jones music swells's my phone. Geez, it's my phone. Samantha, my daughter, had downloaded it "for me". Adam Welz is on the other end saying something about Francois, and the Houston tiercel. "What?"

I admit it I'm not a morning person. Yes I watch birds, but in the morning? Only on special occasions. I do not keep a life list--Am I still a birdwatcher? "What did you say, Adam?"

He repeats, "I said, Francois Portmann went over to..." Adam yawns, "Went over to East River Park and the Houston Dad is just standing there."

He also said some other things which are all rather fuzzy, but that was the important gist. I call Francois. He's tried calling the Horvaths and gotten disconnected. I say, "I'll grab a cab and come over."

I press the rest of the family into service, "Cat carrier. I need one of the cat carriers. Where are my welding gloves?" I go in search of a towel. The only one that isn't too heavy is Sam's Harry Potter Towel. She's pretty asleep maybe she won't notice. Maybe I actually brush my hair, but then again maybe not. Money for cab and out the door. But not quite, a voice catches me half way. "Mooooom, that's my Harry Potter towel."

Stunningly I get a cab without too much trouble with a very friendly driver, originally from India who is wearing an absolutely stunning, bright yellow silk turban. Quite smashing actually, but a little brilliant for me at the moment. He asks, "Do you have a little kitty in the box?"

I say no, and go into the hawk on the ground and...Hawk? Hawk doesn't seem to be in his rather extensive vocabulary. Why should it be? Explanations ensue. We make it to Houston and the FDR and I give him a blog card so he can see how the hawk thing turns out.

Francois is way over on the far side of the AstroTurf baseball field. I know, whatever possessed them. Houston Dad is standing by the fence, not looking very good. Why? Because he's just standing there on the ground, staring. Not a bit normal.

Originally the formel had been close flying around in agitation. I assume attempting to convince him to get off the ground. Francois said when he came close she perched on the fence a ways down , and then went into a tree where she was no doubt still watching. Poor thing, first her kids and now her mate.

At some point in all this I've talked to Cathy Horvath who says, "Maybe he was flying around, chasing a pigeon, and he's just really tired." Hmmm. Maybe she wouldn't say that if she could see him, but then maybe again she would. We decide to watch him for awhile. Francois wants to go get his camera. No problem. I'll watch.

But Francois points out I shouldn't watch too obviously or someone will notice the bird and possibly call Animal Control, which would just complicate matters. Right, I'll watch but pretend I'm not.

I look at the carrier. I look at the bird. He's still staring. No drooping wing. No panting. No blood at least that I can see. His feet look okay. Wait, he just picked up on a bug flying by. That's hopeful--maybe.

The park isn't busy, but a jogger goes by in a bright yellow jogging suit. What is it with the bright yellow this morning. Maybe I look at the bird and give it away because the jogger suddenly notices and runs back a few steps, then forward, then repeats. He looks at me, the cat carrier, the welding gloves. I smile. He looks befuddled, then jogs away.

The AstroTurf is really heating up. The sun is really beating down. This can't be helping Mr. Houston. His nictitating eyelids close for what seems like a little too long...wait, he's scanning bugs again. Back to the 1000 mile stare.

Francois returns. I ask if Cathy had any suggestions. He said, she said something about a friend at the ASPCA.

The ASPCA? Do I know anyone there? Nope. Besides I think this guy needs medical attention.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
I go closer. He doesn't try to put distance between us. What do you think Francois? Not good. I agree not good.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
I try to call the Horvaths. No answer. We stare at Mr. Houston. It's really hot on this AstroTurf.
Okay, he's been standing here for hours and doesn't seem to be aiming to start moving any time soon. Poison? Concussion?

Some giant piece of earth moving equipment, which is horrendously noisy, trundles past Mr. Houston on the other side of the fence. No response. Okay, that's it. I make a decision. I'll take him home and put him in the dark in my second bathroom. Then at 1:00pm the rehabbers come into Animal General and I'll take him up there.
Photograph by Francois Portmann
Time for the gloves. Francois says, "Have you done this before?"
"What, pick up a Red-tail? No. But I've picked up lots of other things." I don't mention that many of them have been, dead, unconscious, or seedivores. Why worry him?"

You will notice that there is no photograph of Mr. Houston going into the carrier. Because once again the photographer became part of the action. The tiercel could spread his wings and run a few steps but that was it. Francois got the towel over him, and he just went flat, completely spent.
I held his feet as a precaution but he was so gone that when I slid him into the carrier, he just laid there.
We close him up and a construction worker on the other side of the fence, tells us that the tiercel had been there ever since he'd come in very early this morning. And then he told us the pair come every morning to a tree in the construction area and the guys watch them hunt squirrels. I ask, that if we put the fledglings in there would the guys keep an eye on them too and Gerome said, "Sure."
At least that's very good news. The parents when healthy will have no trouble finding their babies in the park as they come every day.
Francois and I turn from the fence to leave and I notice that there are two park rangers, one to the left end of the fence and one to the right end. And they're walking the fence line, closing in on us. Did someone report a downed hawk? At any rate, we're on our way.
Francois grabs us a cab and tiercel and I head for my apartment and the dark cooler bathroom.

Tiercel in the low light of the bathroom. He had his beak hooked on the bars. He looked so limp I wondered if he couldn't get his beak off. I went to see if it was uncomfortable by raising it to see if it was stuck. No. And my touching his beak did not raise a response. Not good. I take the one photo, close the door and allow him to unstress if possible.
In the meantime, I hear Indiana Jones again, and Bobby Horvath is on the phone. He's sorry he missed the call and he'll come in and get tiercel. Great, I say.
Then once again, it's Harrison Ford, this time it's Cathy Horvath. Change of plans take him to the Animal Medical Center. Oops that's pretty close to where I just came from compared to where I am. I get instructions.

10:33am After a rest in the darkened bathroom, Houston Tiercel is standing up again. This is a very good thing. Pancake hawks worry me.

Once again I get packed up to hit the streets of NYC. I set tiercel down for a moment by the door to get my hat. Chekhov, our Maine Coon cat walks past, catches a whiff of tiercel and goes from 0 to 100 in a quarter on end too. Later, even with the carrier empty the parrot flings himself and screams when he goes by. Wow. Wiring is a fascinating thing.
The Animal Medical Center is a trip in itself, the bulk of which tale is for another day. But as they brought the cat carrier back to me without the towel--remember the Harry Potter towel? I couldn't go home without Harry Potter. It turned out they were using Harry in the exam so I got some tidbits when the towel showed back up. No fractures and they were giving him fluids. Seemed like a good start. The Horvaths also requested x rays, and blood work including tests for anti-coagulant poison. Cathy called both Francois and I with the update and the blood test results should be in very soon, conceivably Wednesday.
As the formel at Houston had already been banded in the Horvath's care, as now have all three fledglings, Dad will go to the Horvaths for rehab, a short one we hope, for the first time that I know of in New York City, we will have a complete family of Red-tails that are banded from one of the urban nests.
Well, that was an interesting morning. I decide to go check on the Triborough nest family in Astoria Park.

But Francois has made it before me and taken this luscious photo of Hous, practicing his ballet moves on the bar instead of with it.

Also, by Francois, here comes Hous. Just look at that wingspan and nice positioning too.

I just miss Francois at Astoria Park, but I find Peter, one of the main local watchers, and we find Atlas watching over Hous. Look at that raised foot.

And we mustn't forget the clever zen Trib. His flying is starting to come along as well. He's just more subtle. Speaking of subtle I didn't even get a decent look at Athena today.
When I brought this photo up, it was very familiar. Sam walked by and said the same.
The face is really quite similar to the photo of--
Eldest of the Cathedral nest in 2006.
Donegal Browne

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pale Male as UK Tourist Lure, Cathedral and Triborough Updates plus the NYTimes on Marie Winn's Central Park In The Dark

Hous, the active, looks around for something to do.

A woman walks with her children down the path. An older gentleman reads his paper in a lawn chair. Never seeing that Athena is busy just above their heads in the evergreen. See her up left?

Trib, the contemplative, sits on the fence and watches the world go by.

When I left the park on Saturday night (about 4:00) the fledglings were on the west side of the pool high in the trees between the pool and the basketball court).

On Sunday morning they were on the bleachers in the high dive area. Trib was laying down and Hous was perched up. Some of the staff working on the pool came close to get cellphone pictures and the birds flew out of their range which is great! Hous flew across the high diving area to the trees where he was released. Trib perched on the fence.

Athena came over and perched on the flood lights next to the high dive and Atlas perched with her on the lights to bring her some food. Along comes Hous to join them on the light. He barrels into them and knocks them off the light. Pretty funny.

Later, when Athena brought food to the top diving platform, Hous flew up there in one attempt and got to get the food first. Meanwhile, not to be left out, Trib attempts to get to the top platform but just can't get that last upward swing. So he figures out how to climb the ladder from the second platform to the top. When he gets up there he runs like a chicken to Hous who loses his balance at the end of the diving platform. He flies to the trees and seems perfectly content to sit in the london planes for the afternoon. Such a good flyer and really enjoys moving around in the trees. Trib is still not flying as much as Hous but he is not crying. He preans and looks around quite a bit.

We didn't see Athena feed them last night but she was on the bridge rustling up dinner when we left the park. 3 crows were having battle with some mockingbirds (?) over the river in the late afternoon on Sunday but they didn't seem to be interested in the hawks. Not sure if Atlas and Athena dealt with them at all. (We thought the rain or the crows might have been the reason dinner was not served by the time we left the park)

The park was relatively quiet yesterday with the threat of rain. We finally got some rain but it was a nice sun shower with very little thunder/lightning. They both seemed to enjoy the rain and became fairly animated hopping and flying around.

This morning, Trib was perched on the high dive. Not sure if he was there all night but he was preening and looking at the starlings. Houston was all over the place. When I left him, he was watching the workers putting up new fencing for the basketball court. I let those workers know that he was there and if there were any problems to let the park staff know.

That's all for now.

And as to the discussion over the species of the prey from yesterday, the beak of which was one of the few identifying forms available beyond dark feathers and black feet. Wildlife Rehabilitator Cathy Horvath identifies the prey as a young Crow. I think she's right-- as that's what I thought too. Besides she's raised many an orphaned or injured juvenile Crow and looked at many such beaks in order to put food in them. So Crow it is!


A Raptor Bonanza--Winkie and her husband hit the raptor jackpot.

For my report on the Divines: Saturday AM, around 10, I came up empty. I think that I saw an adult on the horizon toward Central Park, but not sure. I was working Saturday afternoon and evening, so I was not available to check on the juvies. Sunday AM, around 11:15, one of the adults, my guess Isolde, was on the hospital chimney. Although I walked around for 45 minutes, I found no other hawks.

Sunday evening, about 6:45 PM, my husband and I hit the raptor bonanza! He was the first to notice the cry and ask me to identify it. ...Large baby bird distress noises!

Then out of the blue, aerial warfare was above us! A juvie hawk being harassed by the kestrels. There were two or three kestrels in pursuit. The juvie was really being dive-bombed! But it was clearly not able to fly faster or out maneuver the kestrels.

Now, wait, what's that? There is another large bird above added into the mix. This was all fairly high above the tops of the Columbia buildings, so I found a place to steady the binoculars and make sure that I was seeing right. It was a peregrine falcon, wing shape and size were my clues. Now there are three raptor species above our buildings engaged in maneuvers.

The kestrels doing the harassing and the the hawk and the peregrine trying to get clear. Or maybe the peregrine is trying to snag a meal? At this point, we are not sure how many kestrels there are. There are two major ones in pursuit and others doing support. Because they disappear behind the Columbia buildings and reappear so fast, it was impossible to keep an eye on both the juvie hawk and the peregrine and the back-up guard of kestrels - so I wouldn't be able to say for sure how many kestrels there really were. We never saw more than three together. By now the juvie hawk is resting out of sight on a roof top. And the screaming peregrine is trying to find a safe place.

Once the peregrine stopped on a railing on one of the roof tops, I was able to get the glasses on it and confirm that it too is one of the recent fledges. So we have had about ten minutes of these skirmishes above us. After a short pause, the hawk is in the air again.

Apparently the kestrels found its resting place. It appears to be getting quite tired out and not able to keep out of their way. Back to another roof - the edge of a roof, still in sight. And in the mean time the peregrine really sets us a ruckus of distress.

For some reason the kestrels are not bothering it anymore. Maybe their first encounter was enough to get their message across. After another five minutes, the kestrels are heading back toward the cathedral and leaving both birds alone.

Now wait just a minute, what is that near the peregrine? Less than thirty feet away is another hawk. All total about twenty minutes of commotion and now all is quiet. Still really quiet, except for the continued distress cries of the peregrine. All the other birds are still undercover.At this point, we head toward the cathedral. This action has taken place four blocks north of the cathedral. Both us have to reconfirm what we just witnessed.

Yes, one hawk was definitely a juvie, rosy breast clearly visible. The other, not a positive ID. From the fact that this hawk was not active in the fray, my guess is that is was one of the juvies trying to lay low, only a guess. And yes, it really was a peregrine this far from Riverside Church. It too was very mottled, not clearly marked like an adult.

Now, I do not know much about the peregrines, but I cannot imagine that an adult would be trying to sit out a kestrel attack. And would guess that no adult would be making such calls.Looking around the cathedral, I was coming up short.

Give my husband the credit. A adult hawk was on top of the head of Gabriel - the obvious lookout point! After looking at Bruce's photos from Sunday, I would almost certainly say is was Isolde, she is just that much larger relative to the angel's head. And even from four blocks the cries of the peregrine could be heard.

After about thirty more minutes, nothing much had changed. When we headed home; however, the second hawk had moved on. The juvies, both peregrine and hawk, still in the same position. If the hawk were letting out any cries, it was not head over those of the peregrine.

When we were several more blocks up, the peregrine took off over toward Columbia's campus and in direction of the Riverside Church nest. We heard the cries continue. And even after getting into our apartment those cries could still be clearly distinguished.

WOW, amazing evening!


New York: Unlikely wildlife in Central Park -
United Kingdom
This is Pale Male, a wild red-tail hawk, which, for 10 years, has nested and raised more than 20 offspring in the heart of New York. Before Pale Male (so ...


More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife.
By Marie Winn.
Illustrated. 304 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $25.

Published: June 22, 2008

Is it dangerous to lark in Central Park at night? Not really, Marie Winn says in “Central Park in the Dark.” The “precinct enjoys the city’s lowest crime rate,” she writes. This may be true on a per acre basis (not per capita), but still, it wasn’t until the author came to know the park extremely well that her fear of the night receded, “though it never disappeared completely. Familiarity breeds content.”>IV>

And Marie Winn's website, a wonderful fount of Central Park Nature News--

Astoria Park Eyasses I aka Checking on the Triborough Bridge Family Part I

When I arrived lower east side photographer Francois Portmann reported that this fledgling had been begging nearly non-stop for two hours. The other fledgling had been fed earlier in the morning and then the female, Athena, had come to eat her meal in front of the begging fledgling, and then had flown away.

This seemed very worrisome

As I was mulling this over and not feeling terribly good about it, here came Athena again. She delivered the prey to the branch, Hous the begging fledgling jumped at it and her, which is typical. She deftly avoided the pounce and went to the other end of the branch to see how the fledge got on. First he mantled hugely over the prey just in case the other watching fledgling had any ideas.

Athena watched.

Then Hous got down to the business of eating. We weren't sure if he'd been fed since he was released the previous morning. And truth be known, there's no real way to tell since Red-tail hawks are voracious eaters no matter when the last time they ate happened to be.

Hous gives a mighty tug.

Oops, it's gone and fallen onto the tennis court below. Also typical.

Hous is down in a flash and mantling the prey once again. Trib isn't all that far away, nor are the photographers. Any of which Hous has decided might come and nab his lunch.

He grabs the prey hop flaps up to the next higher level, mantles again, and gives the supposed would be lunch grabbers, the eye.

Then he totters ever so slightly.

And comes very close to loosing the prey and his balance. But he's learning. He holds onto the perch with his left foot and holds onto the prey with his right.

Now he has the prey between his feet and uses them both to perch with. Hmmm.

Whether he dropped it again or realized that needing both feet to perch with meant loosing his talons as dining tools I don't know.

But soon he was walking across the tennis court. It looked like the prey had been inadvertently stuck to his foot as he was shuffling along, scraping it against the court surface as he went. Then I realized he hadn't figured out that it's easier to walk with the food in your beak, rather than walking on the food as you walk.

He gets the food into a position which pleases him, gives us the glare, and sets to eating.

With gusto.

This view of the beak is for those who would like to help in identifying the prey. It was young something. We had rather an extended discussion, Adam Welz and I, and have yet settled on the species.

Oh yeah, the rest is over there.

Back he goes for more.

Then it begins to look as if he's begun to "play" with his food. Though perhaps he's just repositioning it.