Thursday, January 28, 2010

NYBG Great Horned Owls, Samantha Raven and the Cooper's Hawk Plus More on The Houston Red-tailed Hawk

New York Botanical Garden Contributor Pat Gonzalez has been diligently scouring the NYBG in hope that the Great Horned Owl pair that nested in the garden last year just might return this year, and guess what?


Check out the attached photos. I took them earlier today (Wednesday, Jan. 27th) at the NYBG.

Is it too early for me to break out the cigars?

Male Great Horned Owl

You should have seen the look on the male’s face when he saw me. It was like, you AGAIN? He turned his head away and completely ignored me just like he did last year. : )

Here's a short video I shot of him. Sorry for the shake, I had no tripod.

P.S. I'm keeping mum about their exact location, the pruning has made the trail that leads near where the tree is much more visible than last year. It is no longer hidden. Can you recommend a good cigar store? : )

Alright Pat, thank you for catching them in the act! I can't wait until you start catching those little heads coming up next to Mom's.

Photo by Francois Portmann
Remember Samantha Raven who lives in the cemetery?
(More gorgeous photos of these two on Francois Portmann's blog, link below.)

For those who don't remember her, here is a small recap-- Samantha, who is a raven from upstate NY, had an injured wing and though two different vets attempted to fix the wing surgically, it was just too damaged for her to regain flight so she came to live at the cemetery where she had been doing remarkably well.

That is until it was reported that she was nabbing pigeons and eating them. The pigeon eating disturbed some people and this almost got Samantha evicted. But she appears to have gotten a reprieve as she is still in residence.

This Samantha update from nature and wildlife photographer Francois Portmann--

Hey Donna,

In the same hood as the Houston Hawk there is an unusual raptor/corvid friendship going on:

I would love to know what those two are up to? Corvids are known to be social but usually hawks are seen as quite solitary when it comes to hunting. Though I have seen two Cooper's Hawks attempting to double team prey so they can work cooperatively when food is at stake.

Just what might this symbiotic relationship be about? Do they have a relationship because of food in some manner or is it just the company?

One season in Central Park there was an immature Cooper's and an immature Red-tail who almost looked like they were playing at times. One would do a stealth flight behind the other, knocking that bird off its perch. Then the bird that had been unperched would do the same to the other. It was suggested that it was all about being king of that particular perch, but the behavior was seen happening on different perches at times. I suppose it could just have been personal antipathy but as they were both young might it not have been play?

When you check out Francois' photographs, look at the first photo of the two together. Samantha's expression would preclude that kind of horseplay. Though beyond what we expect, perhaps the urge to have someone to hang with for a first year hawk, having just left his parents and siblings for the first time and a Raven who would ordinarily have an extended family isn't as extraordinary as we might think.

And of course there is that possible hunting partner/food angle too.


For those who asked where Francois' current photographs of the Houston Hawk were taken. Here is his answer.

The location of the pix is 4 avenue blocks to the west from the ps188 nest.
Btw, the school bldg is still in renovation and wrapped in netting, so no way to nest there!

(A likely blessing, as the previous nest site on the school was a fledglings nightmare. D.B.)

Interestingly, there was a daily news article yesterday regarding the Houston Hawks
(As this link is long, you may have to copy and paste to the address bar to see the original article.)

All eyes to the sky in lower East Side: Two red-tailed hawks captivate locals
BY Daniel Edward Rosen

Tuesday, January 26th 2010, 4:00 AM

Red-tailed hawks that like to swoop around the lower East Side are captivating the local humans.

Lorraine Sepulveda, 53, a mother of five who has been "stalking" the majestic birds for two years, said she saw one perched up on the roof of a building at E. Houston St. and Avenue D on Sunday, "just hanging out like a superhero."

"I said, 'Omigod! I've been looking for you,'" recalled Sepulveda, who said she bought a pair of binoculars just to keep track of her feathered friends from her apartment at the Baruch Houses.

Johnny Reyes, 18, a neighborhood resident who has dubbed the hawks "the sky beasts," said, "They come down and they eat squirrels, rats, birds.

"People who walk their little dogs are always looking out for the hawks."

Hawks first appeared in the neighborhood in spring 2008, when two of them built a nest for their three fledglings.

Their choice location was a fifth-floor air-conditioning unit at Public Schools 9-4/188 on E. Houston St., according to school custodian and bird enthusiast Bill Tatton.

After losing the male hawk and two chicks to bacteria contracted from what Tatton calls "bad pigeon," the two surviving hawks left their nest but remained in the neighborhood, flying around to hunt for food.

Tatton has documented the hawks' presence with photos over the past two years.

"These birds are so powerful and so beautiful, how can you not be inspired?" said Tatton, 53, of Pelham Bay, the Bronx.

So far no one has attempted to name the powerful birds.

"I wouldn't go as so far as to give a bird of prey a nickname," said Tatton.

As of 2007, 32 nesting pairs of red-tailed hawks were identified across the city, with many more of the species, possibly hundreds, passing through the five boroughs each year, according to Sarah Aucoin, director of the Urban Park Rangers.

The most famous city pair were Pale Male and Lola, who roosted on the upper East Side.

"The hawks who are able to successfully nest and reproduce and find good hunting tend to stay," said city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

"In recent memory, there have never been more hawks than there are now in the most unusual of places," Benepe added.

From Wildlife rehabilitator Bobby Horvath in response to Francois' Houston Hawk news--

Hi Francois,

From the reports and your pictures I would bet it's the same bird. It's a big bird so female and its banded on the right leg ,which we use for all girls . I compared your old and new pics and looks to me to be the same bird. It would be a huge coincidence for it to show up at the same location and not be last years bird.

Yes there are many more redtails each year showing up in the city but to be banded on the right leg and have the same appearance , lightish head to light breast makes me say it is the same bird. If it starts showing up
on the rooftops of the school and or adjacent apartment houses then no

Keep us informed of what you see.


And video of a Red-tail Hawk and Gray Squirrel Interlude in Washington Square Park by KZdiamond

Donegal Browne

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