Thursday, January 21, 2010

Red-tail Update: Isolde and Norman, plus More on Louie the Amazon Parrot and his Tool


From Fire Escape Nara in Harlem--

She's baa-aack!

After an almost week-long hiatus during which we began to wonder if our hospitality was being permanently spurned, tonight the hawks are back! "Our" hawk (I assume Isolde) is once again roosting on the floor of the fire escape. Her mate arrived a little later and roosted on an escape a couple of apartments up from ours.

After dusk our four-year-old suddenly looked up from his activity and said, 'let's see if the hawk is there!' He must have a sixth sense, because lo and behold, there she was, staring in the window. She stayed that way--facing into the window, a foot and a half from the pane, eyes open, occasionally pivoting slightly so we'd get a silhouette of her beak, for perhaps two hours. Once we knew she was there, we tried to keep the lights out and would creep up and check on her every so often. She was a bit hard to see in the dark, but the gleam of her open eye told us she was awake (I assume they don't sleep with an eye open?). This time the Christmas tree that had partially blocked the window has been removed, so there she was (is) in full view. She seems completely unfazed by our presence. Alfred Hitchcock would have had a field day with this.

It's definitely colder tonight than it has been the past several nights. We first saw the hawks last Sunday (1/10), when it was really cold. They came off and on over the next several days. Then we had that warm spell. Tonight it's colder again, though not as cold as those other nights. We need to find data on temperature over the last ten days to confirm that impression--or better yet, hang a thermometer outside so we can keep track ourselves.

So far no sticks on the fire escape--or dead squirrels for that matter. But you will be the first to know if there are!

Excellent!!!! It's interesting how often they perch TOWARDS the window. Perhaps to shelter their fronts from the wind but also two more things, I think---Isolde can keep an eye on you, plus she can watch behind herself using the reflection in the window.

Could you tell which way the male was facing? At any rate I'd guess he is facing out.

Oh, as to Isolde's open eye, with a hawk's uncanny sight and hearing she no doubt hears and sees you, though obviously isn't freaked out or she'd leave. Plus, like most birds, hawks sleep for a few moments, wake, check things out, go back to sleep for a small amount of time, wake up again, on and off all through the night. I once timed a formel on the nest as she slept and woke and her sleep cycles ran under two minutes, sometimes under one. Though as she was sitting on newly hatched eyasses she may have been being hyper-vigilant.

If I understand her correctly, Winkie says she lives on the same corner as you do but her's faces Columbia. Also that your fire escape isn't one that she's seen them on before. Very interesting that your spot is new. Also when Isolde wasn't on your fire escape on Saturday she was roosting in a tree in the park on Saturday night.

(By the way, Winkie asks if anyone happened to catch Norman going to roost on Saturday evening? If you did get in touch.)

Photograph courtesy of James O'Brien of

(Check out James' blog, he's got some beautiful photographs of this Red-tail, plus a male Kestrel)

Is this Red-tail that James photographed the same one Winkie has been seeing only about 125th St.?

Local Harlem hawkwatcher Winkie with yet more on Isolde, Norman, and a mystery Red-tail above 125th--

11:35AM, 01-18-10: Hawk sighting alert

A call from my husband, a lucky man with a day off! A lone crow led him to a hunting hawk around 120th entrance to MS Park. A hawk was trying to catch a squirrel when a crow sent up the alarm. This must have been the sentinel, as two others came rapidly from the east. The hawk flew back into the tree and seemed to want to wait out the crows. After my husband finished his run (about 10 minutes), the hawk was still there, but the crows were gone.

Because he was very close to the hawk’s flight, he thinks that this hawk is the one that James has posted from January 6. (Great work from James on the local kestrel! ) It has a dark belly band and a break between the primary and secondary feathers on the right side. My husband and I have recently seen this hawk flying along Convent Avenue and around St. Nick’s park: that is north of 125th. We also saw it last year around in the early winter, but always above 125th Street. Anyone with a positive on this hawk?


A Birthday Buzz

It was the last light of Saturday, when I decided to go for a nice long walk. It was my birthday and I felt in need of fresh air. No sooner had I gotten over to Morningside Drive when out of the sky to the west, Isolde dropped down into the park. She buzzed right over my head, not twenty feet above! Then she landed in a nearby tree, sitting for several minutes. She gave me the “So it’s you again” look.

Yes, Donna, I know these tolerant notices that “our” raptors give us regulars. She stretched, scratches and gave the park the once over. Glancing my way again, she glided over to one of her favorite trees. There she sat actively looking around for about five minutes, maybe she was looking for Norman or maybe not. Whatever, she decided to glide into the lower part of the park into the trees that Tristan had so commonly used at night. Because there is a high cliff on my side of the park and I couldn’t get down all that fast, I lost her in the growing dark.

As far as I know, Norman was not around. But Isolde must have gone to roost in the park or nearby, as I would have seen her silhouette if she had taken off to another area.

Thanks, Isolde, that buzz was by far the best birthday greeting of the day! Winkie

Louie scratches his ear with a molted feather.

Linda, Robin of Illinois friend who owns the tool using Louie said:
Amazons are prone to sinus problems so as he is using his feather to scratch inside his ears, he also does the yawning thing. He switches feet to hold the feather so he can do each ear.

Linda also said that only one of her Amazons, Louie, uses the feather ear scratcher. Sam, another Amazon, does not.

More from Robin--

I wondered if Amazons were copy cats....seeing Louis scratch his neck and clean his ears, would the other birds (specifically Amazons), imitate. She wrote:

I don't know. We had another Amazon, Spanky (he died a couple years ago) who was in the pic with Louie. He never did the thing with the feather in the ear. He would watch Louie but I guess if the ears don't itch, they don't need to do it.

Never saw Spanky or Sam do the yawning thing. I sympathize with Louie because sometimes my ears itch all the way down my neck. Maybe I could borrow a feather from Lou?? At night before I put him to bed I scratch his head and check his neck/shoulders for pin feathers and sometimes I’ll just put my fingers where his ear openings are and rub. The look on his face is priceless. His eyes almost roll back in his head.

Robin, I wondered the same thing but as Linda says if you don't have the problem of itchy ears, you don't need the tool which does complicate testing any hypothesis concerning the issue.

Here is a question for Linda if you’d please pass it on to her Has Louie always used the feather on his ears from the time he came to live with her? If so he may have learned it from another bird--or not.

And as it turns out, Louie isn't the only Amazon who uses a feather as a tool. There is at least one other unearthed by Jackie Dover of the Tulsa Forum--


Interesting video of an Amazon parrot's self-taught tool-using skills:

Jackie Dover
Tulsa Hawk Forum

Note that this is a different Amazon who uses the technique. The title does say that the Amazon was self-taught, I'm supposing in the way that she was not taught this as a "trick" induced by humans. Which still leaves the question as to whether these two parrots discovered the use of this tool independently or whether it was learned from another bird.

Donegal Browne

Next up--Here Comes Eagle Season!!!

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