Tuesday, October 26, 2010

WARNING This Post May Be A Bit Graphic for Some: No It Isn't Charlotte But We Were Concerned There For Awhile

Photo by Brett Odom
Last week I got a phone message from Brett Odom saying that there was something of concern and I should give him a call.


Last time we'd been in touch a pair of Peregrines were making themselves at home on the previous site of Charlotte and Pale Male Jr.'s nest. This was rather worrisome because as we know, Peregrines are one of the few creatures that can take out a Red-tail in a New York minute.

Ordinarily at this time of year, Pale Male Jr. is off on his annual vacation so we also knew it was likely that if Charlotte was going to defend that particular piece of turf the Peregrines kept sitting on, she'd be doing it by herself.

Double gulp.

Then Brett emailed me the above photograph. Could that be Charlotte? Note the carcass has no visible feet nor can we see a beak, but the coloring did look kind of like Charlotte. What if we're only seeing her bottom half below the belly band? She's a very dark bird with a very dark belly band. Now granted the carcass looks pretty small for a Red-tail, but also note that most of the feet and legs are missing, the tail and wing tips are missing.

The head is there, lying in the dark and unfortunately due to angle we can't see the whole beak to tell if it's curved or not. And what if most of the breast is missing and it's folded back onto itself would that foreshorten the effect and slew our size perception?

Could all the missing bits just be making it appear smaller than we're used to?


Photo by Brett Odom
Then Brett got this photo with one of the Peregrines included for size perspective. The carcass does look very small for a hawk. A large Peregrine and a small Red-tail are the same length. Charlotte is not a small Red-tail. Charlotte is a big girl. But what about the possible illusion we might be getting because of the missing bits?

But it does look small so how about we attempt to figure out what other species it might be. I thumb through my Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Birds, over and over again. Nothing really fits. I keep thumbing.

A Willow Ptarmigan? Shouldn't be here, it would have to be very very lost. Keep thumbing.

A feral pigeon? Well, feral pigeons only have certain color morphs and that isn't one of them, unless there is one I missed. But I've seen a lot of feral pigeons

The whole time Brett and I are asking each other things like, why did they eat the feet and strip feathers and not really eat the usual parts? No tail to be seen, primaries appear gone from the right side wing. But then again if that's the case, where did the feathers go? Whole days are passing.

Why doesn't the carcass appear to have been noshed on beyond those unusual parts mentioned? Was it poisoned and the Peregrine can tell and that's why she isn't eating it?

In the meantime, I send the photos to John Blakeman, who beyond his thoughts on the physical discrepancies of size and all, he stated that no self respecting Red-tail would let herself get caught by a Peregrine on a ledge like that--which was heartening.

But well, we all make mistakes.

We need something definitive.

I ask Brett if it's possible for him to get a photo from a higher angle so we can see the beak and whether the breast is missing and the skin folded over on itself. The light has been terrible. New York City is having completely overcast days.

Here comes the weekend, and I get a text from Brett. New photos. Much better light and a higher angle. It's not Charlotte! Yea!!!! Boy do I feel better.

But then again. WHAT is it then?

Next from Brett, surprise, surprise--Now there are TWO of whatever up there.

Photo by Brett Odom

Okay, Peregrines do cache food, but the first carcass has been up there quite awhile. And whatever species it is, all I can think, is that it must be easy to catch but doesn't appear to be very tasty as they are just letting it lay there.

Speaking of what species, it's driving me crazy. I zoom in and the second carcass appears to have a white scalloped edged tail, rather like a Mourning Dove. But not Mourning doves as the color is all wrong, unless the color balance is off. No. A Mourning dove's belly is much closer of a color than these are. But because of the tail, perhaps something similar? Or not. After looking again at the tail, perhaps I'm just looking at bright sun on feathers causing glare.

What's your take?

Donegal Browne

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