Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Downtown Bird Chase and Long Island Sal the Red-tail Demonstrates Squirrel Eating for Small Children

As you can see the the city was having a very dark day. You may have to double click on some of the photographs in order to see what I'm talking about.

I looked out my bedroom window at lower Manhattan and noticed a number of birds having an altercation. Here we have a small bird (possibly a Mockingbird by the flight pattern), diving a very large gull and running it north towards the viewer, where it just keeps going. Another bird, same species is heading to the left, east, in pursuit of another large bird, which according to flight pattern, size, and speed looked very much like a Red-tailed Hawk.

Said possible Red-tail has just disappeared behind this building, second possible Mocker is in pursuit, photo right. Note the building in the foreground. Now look for the floor under the crenelated roof, count four windows to the left. See the flash of white against the dark stripe between the fourth and fifth window? That flash is two pigeons diving for cover. Another clue the bird behind the building is a raptor.

Then I loose sight of everyone. The street on the left is Eighth Avenue. The one directly below, out of frame is 42nd. Street. If you strain your eyes utterly on the first break in the skyline to the right, west of Eighth Ave., you'll see a vague impression of the Statue of Liberty.

You'll definitely need to double click on this one. There is a pursuer set against the mid-clump of buildings, the first from the right, west, and a second in the break in the buildings coming up on the far left building. Against the far left building, before one eyes get to the flag is a dark long winged bird which looks to be a Peregrine. There are some in a nesting box downtown. RT hasn't reappeared.

And then as suddenly as the free for all started, it is over.
I've had two reports from neighbors that they have seen an RT hunting around the area and Silver flung himself off his perch today, screaming AWK! A sure sign that he's seen a raptor fly by. As for me...?

I met a friend for dinner this evening, Linda Schiess, who is a school nurse at an elementary school out in Long Island. Last year, an owl, possibly a Great Horned from the sound of it, frequented the school's basketball court, using the hoop for a perch at night, and made a rather large dent in the local bunny population. Each morning, teachers, janitorial stuff, and whatever adult happened to come upon bunny remains, quietly cleaned them up and the children had no idea that a raptor was doing nightly slaughter for her dinner.

This year a very large immature Red-tailed Hawk, Long Island Sal, has taken to hunting the school grounds for squirrels. According to Linda who's brought in her big binoculars to scope Sal out, Sal has been averaging at least two fluffy tailed nut eaters per week. And as we know, RTs are diurnal. They hunt during the day, in full view of whatever moppet might be watching.

Well, yesterday Sal decided to prepare and eat her squirrel meal right outside the nice large windows of the Kindergarten classroom. The teacher noticing Sal ripping the squirrel to bits, being a touch squeamish, and out of her depth perhaps in giving a talk to the teeny set about carnivores, and survival of the fittest, tried to draw the five-year-olds to another area of the room.

Well today a first grade class was trouping across the lawn, and guess who was sitting on the fence ripping the head off her squirrel lunch? Sal of course. And not only was there eviscerating going on but a second squirrel was attempting to investigate what Sal was doing--from the ground, a very bad spot for a squirrel who is near a hawk, and then the squirrel had the temerity to go from the ground to the fence itself. Yes, the one Sal was sitting on. Would there be more slaughter?

By this point the class was beginning to make grossed out noises and exclaim over the situation. Sal spooked, grabbed her food and flying low over the class, it was a meaty squirrel even without a head, made a hasty exit.

The squirrel was definitely out of the bag, one could say, about Sal and her eating habits and somebody really did need to talk to the tots about it. Thank goodness for the male substitute teacher who girded his metaphorical loins and went for it.

He explained that squirrel was one of the foods that hawks ate when they were hungry. Yes, they ate their food raw being short on cooking facilities. That was the natural order of things for hawks and it wasn't like Sal could just go down to the cafeteria when she was hungry and have some of Miss Nancy's Mac and Cheese like they could for lunch. An

The group mulled it over and seemed to decide that made sense. Besides seeing Sal eat a squirrel, was pretty exciting when it got down to it. For as anyone who's had much contact with children knows, there is a part of them that can be a wee bit on bloodthirsty side in the right context.

Good sense has won the day. No one decided that Sal should be disappeared to protect "the children". And who knows how many new urban hawkwatchers may have been created by an adult who was willing to tell the truth, which allowed the youngsters to understand and see what really goes on, day to day, in nature.

Donegal Browne

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