Saturday, October 17, 2009


He does indeed look to be perusing across the many lanes of traffic for prey. Being a mature Red-tail, I'm assuming he has the glide over the traffic to the grassy area where there will be prey, down and won't end up getting smacked by the tall cab of a truck..

Uh oh, I'm busted. He's spotted the camera and I looking at him.
His right foot is beginning rise.

And he's off. Pushing up and turning into the air with his left leg


The wings stretch out, tips up, and his body elongates.

The first down stroke. Note the position of his head and tail.

He rises. The second stroke, deeper and the tail and head bend into it.

The third down stroke, deeper yet, and he takes a look at me on his way out.
Actually honking has begun and perhaps that's another reason he looks my way. Oh dear! I realize the line of six cars in front of me has shrunk to one plus five empty spaces and those behind me aren't happy about it.
As of today the Red-tails are back hunting from the power lines beside the road with a vengeance. After this fellow, I saw three more doing it in various locations. This seems t9 be a regular part of their cycle here.
I'd wondered if the sudden appearance of the wire perched hunters might have something to do with an influx of Red-tails moving down from the north. But remember a few days ago, when Mrs. Steam was disturbed from her perch in Thresherman's Park she headed for the top of the power pole down the way? Earlier in the year, the RTs in the park would have just flown to the next treeline and continued hunting the field from there. Which gives a clue that it isn't just non-resident hawks but the locals as well who are switching from the trees overlooking fields to power lines overlooking roads.
One factor could be that the easy pickings of missed grain have been well foraged by this point. Are the prey having to forage further and hence cross the roads to make their meals?
Perhaps more likely is that in many fields now winter wheat or some other overwintering ground cover has now had time since the Fall harvest to get to a height where the rodents have more cover in the fields and it's just easier for the hawks to see them on the verge and as they cross the road. The hawks draw a visual bead on them as they cross and then nab them on the other side.
Donegal Browne

Friday, October 16, 2009

Another Piggy Back Rider of Red-tailed Hawks

Photograph courtesy of The Daily Mail

Remember our discussion of Red-winged Blackbirds riding the backs of Red-tailed Hawks? Well they aren't the only ones. An offering from Jackie Dover of the Tulsa Hawk Forum--

Hi, Donegal--

I ran across an interesting tale of a nest-defending Kingbird who took on a Colorado Redtailed Hawk. I've attached two photos. Here is the link to the entire story--

Western Kingbird

Photograph by Jackie Dover of the Tulsa Hawk Forum

I'm also attaching a photo of a Western Kingbird in my own yard this summer, scolding me for daring to mow under her nesting tree.

Jackie Dover

Tulsa Hawk Forum

By the way Jackie, any news about the Tulsa Red-tails?

And later tonight if all works out, THE RED-TAIL WAITING AT THE STOPLIGHT.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Scoop on the Washington Square Red-tail!

The resident Washington Square Red-tail, newly mature, enjoys dinner.
Photograph by Peter Richter of

Remember a few weeks ago when new NYC Hawkwatcher Myisha Priest, sent in a sighting of a Red-tail in Washington Square Park? I hoped that some of the other hawkwatchers in NYC had some information on the hawk for her. I sent out the word and also asked her for more information. Below are the responses--

From Myisha--
I watched the hawk go to sleep in the tallest tree that is just off the pathway on the east entrance to the park, and also, while walking at night we got pooped on (really really big bird poop-- no pigeons, no way)in front of the big building near the north east corner of the park. It's on University near West 4th and it is facing east. We thought it was the hawk. The building is tall with lots of ledges.This might be a good place to look for a nest.

I'm so delighted to have seen the bird and have fallen in love completely. She looked right at me!!! It was such an unexpected pleasure. Now I can't take my eyes from the sky when I'm in the park. This may be why I haven't seen other birders! I'm going to start looking out for them. I'll keep you updated about any sightings.

Myisha, thank you! You've discovered some terrific and potentially useful information about the WSP Red-tail. Thank you for sharing the information about one of the bird's roost sites and a place to look for a possible nest come January. I love the fact that like a true dyed-in-the-wool hawkwatcher, instead of being annoyed at being pooped on, you decided on the likely species and you're excited because the hawk did you a favor in revealing her presence.

As to the excretion episode--would it have been late enough in the day that the Red-tail was roosting on the building for the night?

Also as you feel the hawk (fingers crossed a mate shows up) might consider the building for a nest site, be particularly vigilant of the area for if the hawks do build there, before long there will be much ferrying back and forth with building materials from the park or terraces with vegetation.

And as to spotting other hawkwatchers, we know at least three experienced folks have spent at least some time watching in Washington Square and there may well be others. They will be the ones with cameras or binoculars, and are like you, incessantly scanning the trees and the sky. Just march right up and ask if they're looking for the hawk too.


From Robert Schmunk, one of the chief watchers of uptown hawks Isolde and Norman and the creator of Rob discovered some photos of the Washington Square RT on flickr and has sent in the links.

There was a molting year-old in WSP in June.
(Note varying color of tail. Part red, part brown.)
Possibly the same bird seen there in May.

From Queen's Hawkwatcher and bloggist Peter Richter--

I spotted the Washington Square Hawk this afternoon around 4pm. [10/02/09] I saw it out of the corner of my eye as it had just snagged a squirrel from a tree on the northwest side of the park. It devoured the squirrel in a partially decayed tree, and hung out there for a while afterward. This park is a Hawk's paradise, there is probably more pigeons/squirrels per square meter than any other place in the city. Many people feed the pigeons and squirrels in the park, so they are very brash and somewhat ignorant to the dangers in their habitat. You can see some pics of the Hawk at

And from the very energetic watcher James O'Brien of
And so it did. This is an adult RTH, probably a resident. Great description...and I agree, more rats/squirrels/pigeons per sq ft that anywhere else in the City except Washington Heights!!!

Many thanks to everyone for the great information!

And a few more words for Myisha-- The hawk looked you in the eye did she? Yes, it is an unexpected pleasure. Always.

No matter how many times it happens there is delight in the connection- for the human anyway. Some of the urban hawks look humans in the eye regularly. And I often wonder what they feel or think while we're feeling delighted.

With the late Tristin of the Cathedral of St. John nest, I realized one day that he was iron clad sure to do it when I'd been coming everyday to watch his nest and then life interfered and I'd miss some days in a row. Invariably on the day I returned, I'd spot him, one foot tucked at his ease looking down at me, (get ready for some possible anthropomorphizing here) with an expression that plainly said, "Oh there you are. You're back. ". And then he'd go back to his business scanning the territory for prey or for intruders and not look me in the eye again until there was another absence.

There is much more there than they are given credit for.

And so Myisha, a warm welcome, and good hawking.

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Are those Geese Doing What I think They're Doing? And Just Where Have Jamie, Claire, and Roger Gotten to?

I was about to give up on Jamie, Claire and Roger still being in the area and I still might. The preparation and the event itself, The Haunted Train Ride, has been going on over at Thresherman's Park for the last week or so. The steam train has a track that circles the whole park and the field where the Sandhills have been foraging along with all the to do with the spooks that scare the customers, is right next to the track.

Therefore I didn't know if the Cranes had relocated due to the uproar, that field was foraged out, or they'd just decided it was time to head south. Today I went out looking for them in the surrounding area. I was to about give up and decide they'd gone south when very late in the day, you can see how weird the color is due to poor light, and 1.2 miles (I clocked it.) from J,C, and R's original field, I spied three Sandhills.

Of course I wasn't sure if it was them or not. Plenty of Sandhill Crane pairs probably only had one immature with them at this point but it was the right area and I'd not seen others in quite some time....

But look at their sizes. Claire is a good bit smaller than Jamie and Roger and these cranes seem relatively the same size. The one I take to be the female may be a little smaller but Claire was a lot smaller.

Look back up at the top photograph. I'm thinking that this is a different trio. Perhaps three that have just flown in. The Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI, tends to send their Whoopers out on October 10th so it is time for them be in migration.

My best guess is that this is a different family passing through and we won't see Jamie, Claire, or Roger again until next year. If Jamie and Claire return to the wheat field, considering their differing sizes I'd be reasonably comfortable deciding it was the same pair. But young Roger who will be likely out on his own, will be more difficult to spot. Though he is huge now, he'll have filled out a little more with the testosterone and be even bigger than his Dad who is on the grand side of male Sandhill Cranes anyway.

We'll see what Spring brings.

And the Canada Geese? They're still passing over in droves come evening. I did see something rather interesting tonight though.
Geese tend to honk as they go over, right? Sometimes they seem to be "talking" all at once within their flight group, and sometimes they're calling to Geese on the ground who will answer back and then join the flying flock. I've always thought that the ones on the ground had just spread out further foraging and the calls were for regrouping of geese belonging to the group. Then again I suppose that with Geese, the more you can collect into your flight flock, the less often you need to take your turn in the strenuous lead goose position, so perhaps they'll take all comers. Haven't found out yet and perhaps no one has yet bothered to track it. It hasn't been all that long ago that it was nailed down that they take turns at all. It was long thought that the lead goose was the lead goose for the whole trip.
At any rate, this larger group of geese had come up from a field south of me and were getting organized for the night's flight with a honk here and there. Then I noticed that one goose seemed to going down from the tip of the V seemingly looking for a spot to squeeze in. Then I noted that there wasn't a lot of honking, but rather one goose would honk periodically and everyone began to turn east. More honks and more east and a little south. Was the lead bird unfamiliar with the route and he was being given directions from a more experienced bird? Or was it the lead bird giving the directions? And remember that guy looking to squeeze in? Actually as I continued to watch it didn't really look like he was trying to squeeze in after all. He fly in the opposite direction the line was going but slowly so the other passed him by. Then he's slightly go towards those that weren't queuing up properly and there would be a few honks. Wish I'd been able to see who was vocalizing. It looked like he was getting everyone into a nice aerodynamic V. Do adult geese have to chide or train the younger ones into cleaning up their aerodynamic sloppiness? Fascinating.
We do know now, of course that migration routes for cranes, geese, and others, are not wired in, they are learned. Might the urge to migrate be there, or even the urge to migrate in a V be there, but it takes an adult to tweak performance?
So the next time you get a chance to watch when a disorganized flock takes off the ground and is getting organized, early in migration or if they learn they'll have learned it already, don't be bored when you look up and say, "Oh it's just another flock of Canada Geese." Look up and try to help us all figure it out!
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Monday, October 12, 2009

Mrs Steam?

One of the Thresherman Park Red-tailed Hawks from about a quarter mile away.

The weather has changed. It's much colder and this birds feathers are puffed out so it's harder than ever to tell whether this is a male or female.

She seems to have some fluff stuck to her beak which keeps floating around in the wind.
I was leaning toward the female originally because the hawk just looked much bigger and heavier in flight then usual when she came out of the trees and headed away from me. Then when she perched I also thought the toes looked chunky but now I'm not so sure, particularly as the head appears rounded in the photograph. And I'm literal about it being "the photograph". It's the only one the hawk allowed me, even at that distance.
Actually that too made me wonder if it wasn't Mrs. Steam as Mr. has been allowing me to photograph him from about half that distance the last few times I've seen him.
Therefore how about a recommendation from Robin of Illinois in which curious humans actually have found some answers--
Nature PBS - peregrine falcons, RT hawks, harpy eagles etc, cams on backs of the birds and the AF using the technology to design better jets.

GREAT shots of the birds in action - especially the stoops.

If you miss this, check listings for Nature PBS this week and try to see it at a different showing.

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