Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Mature Red-tailed Hawk perched above Morningside Park
A pair has been frequenting the area and this fire escape in particular. They're roosting on it, and even watching the people inside through the window.

One Red-tail roosts on the correspondant's fire escape while the mate roosts on the neighbor's fire escape.

You never know what excitement might be waiting for you when
opening your email box at this time of year. And I received an email from Nara of Morningside Park that has me very excited. There is a bonded pair hanging around. Are they Isolde and Norman? A new pair altogether?

Here is Nara's email--

Hello There,
We found your blogs as we looked for information about the two red-tailed hawks that decided to camp out on our fire escape on Sunday evening. First one alighted, then a second one, shortly before dusk, and literally a couple of feet from our window. We sometimes catch a glimpse of them swooping by the window (which looks out onto Morningside Park) but have never had the privilege of a visit. One subsequently went to sleep on the fire escape; the other did the same on the neighbor's escape.

Tonight, one of them is back! Again, and now a foot or so from the window, the bird was looking inside at us for a while until s/he finally dropped off to sleep. As of 11:50 pm, our visitor (who this time arrived about 7:00 or 7:30) is still sound asleep in a feathery bundle.
Here's a not very good photo taken with a blackberry on Sunday; we got some others as well as a film that we still have to download from the camera.

Is it common to have such a close, and extended, encounter? And if we send you better pictures, can you identify the hawk? While the bird is very close to the window, it's hard to get pictures of it as the flash bounces off the closed window (and we can't open the window for fear of scaring it). I'm including another picture as well, taken a few minutes ago, with the flash through the window, so you can see just how close it is.

We are thrilled. And I imagine it's not the season yet, but if they ever built a nest, our children might stop harassing us for a puppy....


And my response--


This is EXTREMELY exciting! Thank you so much for getting in touch.

As you probably know, urban Red-tails have nested successfully on fire escapes previously in the city and right now is exactly the time that RTHs are choosing nest sites. Last week both Pale Male and Lola were checking in at 927 Fifth Avenue and Charlotte and Pale Male Junior were seen on their previous nest site of several years.

It is possible that your hawks are considering your fire escape as a possible nest site or at least a spot nearby. If they continue their presence and begin bringing twigs to your fire escape it is definitely in the running. Usually the male will scope out a couple of possibilities and twigs will brought to those spots. The female makes the choice as to which spot will be used and then they get serious about building the nest that will be used.

By the way, which direction does your fire escape face? What floor are you on? It does look high with an excellent view for sighting prey and possible intruders. Something hawks like very much.

With the established nest sites in the city, often the choice of another spot is an option but is little more than ceremonial unless there have been serious problems with the spot they've used before. As Red-tails bond with each other most urban Red-tails also seem to bond to their nest site of choice and move less frequently then their rural kin. Possibly due to a shortage of usable spots for there is criteria involved. Your fire escape faces a green space and that often tops the hawk list of criteria.

As to one hawk on your fire escape and the mate on another, Red-tailed pairs often roost with a bit of space between them. That way if one is attacked the other can get up some speed and height for a counter attack. Night attacks are rare in Manhattan as the only night creature that is likely to take on a roosting Red-tail is a Great Horned Owl. And previously Manhattan has been very short on resident Great Horneds.

If the hawks do nest nearby though you will have some pretty spectacular day battles of Red-tails versus Peregrine Falcons or Kestrels or Crows.

Previously Isolde and Tristan the hawks whose territory you live in nested on the Cathedral for many years until Tristan's disappearance hard on breeding season in 2008. We believe Tristan died as a downed Red-tail with an injured wing was reported in the park and Isolde was protecting it. The hawkwatchers searched and searched but no trace of Tristan could be found.

The biological imperative took over and Isolde chose a new mate post haste. She chose a very young male, who was named Stormin' Norman for his unstealthy method of hunting.

They nested successfully on the Cathedral in 2008 though poor Isolde was driven mad trying to protect the nest from the construction works doing work right above her head.

In 2009 they didn't nest on the Cathedral and no one was able to find out if they nested at all. They've not been seen at all frequently in the area and we've been pretty much in the dark about their activities. Had they changed territories? Had they been unable to find a place to nest?

As to the hawk watching through the window--that tells us that they are human habituated city hawks. Pale Male and Lola often look through windows at people. Do be careful of making abrupt movements while in their view or staring too overtly or for too long--that is if they are paying attention to you at all. Too much action as you know, might scare them off but also as hormones increase, the male in particular might jump at the window. This could be because he feels threatened by the movement or he might be seeing his reflection and make a knee jerk response and possibly injure himself. If the hawks set up housekeeping, there are times when you'll want to have a blind or curtain on the window that will nix the reflection or activity issues.

Can we identify the hawks? If they are Isolde and Norman, with photos of front, back and faces, we absolutely can I.D. them as we know them very well. If they are not Isolde and Norman they could be in from another area and other hawkwatchers may know them.

Then again they could be a pair, even possibly hatched from other urban nests, who, finding the territory optimum and empty may be beginning their nesting lives and we can all have the ecstatic experience of learning all about a new pair together.

That said, and this is not any where near enough to make a positive ID but I saw that in the photograph of the hawk with her head tucked sleeping, that that hawk has a deeper coloration coming over her shoulder which is a characteristic of Isolde plus the belly band is not inconsistent with hers.

By the way, can you tell who is larger? Is the smaller of the two darker than the larger? Does the smaller male have a heavy dark belly band?

As to the children, tell them puppies are very nice and all but watching a hawk nest up close with eggs, hatching babies, feedings, hop flapping juveniles, and the nail biting tension of fledging would be spectacular---besides you wouldn't have to walk them, they wouldn't eat your homework, nor chew your sneakers to shreds when you forget to stash them in the closet.

Best regards,


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