Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Peregrine on Ice, Len Soucy of The Raptor Trust Talks About "Oldest Red-tail", John Blakeman Elaborates, and Quicksilver Takes a Bath

Photograph by Adam Weltz

From South African Film Director and naturalist, Adam Weltz,

Q: What do you do if you're a very large first-year female Peregrine Falcon living on a disused airfield in New York and you want a nice hunting perch?

A: You go find a pile of ice chunks about four inches high and sit there looking bemused. And let a guy in a furry hat and a red jacket approach within a few metres to take a picture of you.

Sometimes I really can't figure out why young raptors behave the way they do. The only other time I've seen a Peregrine hunting from a low perch like this was in the middle of the Little Rann of Kutch in India, a vast dried-up mudflat where the only topography for kilometers around was a small dry twig. In this case, however, there were trees all along the runway, many of them good enough for hunting perches. Perhaps this bird liked the feeling of the ice?



Every so often Quicksilver has an uncontrollable urge to take a bath. He'll attempt to bathe in his three inch water cup, a glass of milk, or even your bowl of soup. In this case as he was attempting to squeeze into his small drinking water cup I quickly grabbed a bowl, filled it with warm water and off he went into his bathing frenzy which is punctuated by small pauses while perched on the side of whatever he's bathing in, such as above.

He then flings himself back into rapid kinetic postures. The diameter of the spray pattern is about eight feet.

Swan imitation. Note the look of self absorption.

Another frontal dive.

Wings flailing.

A short pause.

And back at it.

How long can a parrot keep his head under water? Just kidding. He never totally submerges his head.

He finally crawls out. Note the feather powder floating on the top of the water. He has a kind of fluffy under feather that breaks down into powder which is what he uses to condition his feathers as the oil gland at the base of his tail is nearly vestigial.

Then he stands dripping with his after bath 1000 yard stare.

Being it's the middle of winter the next step is a trip to the bathroom where he gets a session with the hair dryer until he's no longer damp so he doesn't get chilled.

Parrots ordinarily being somewhat paranoid of weird equipment that blows hot air, it's best to get them used to the hair dryer when they're very young or failing that, demonstrate it on yourself while they watch.

Human habituated Greys are smart enough to know that if whatever it is doesn't eat you, they're likely not going to be physically accosted by it either no matter how weird it looks or feels.

Now, if I could just convince him that as I have to bundle up to go outside in winter it would be okay for him to be bundled up too. He often wants to go outside with me in cold weather but as his ancestors are from Africa, he isn't really supposed to be anywhere that is below 50 degrees F. and warmer is much better.

He notifies me about his outside wishes, by repeating loudly, "Wanna go outside", while making begging motions with his wings every time I make an appearance at the door on my in and out trips to deal with the feeders for instance. And if particularly frantic about the situation, he may resort to beeping repeatedly like the microwave.

I then have to tell him it's too cold, take him to the door, open it, let him feel the air, and most of the time he then decides he really didn't want to go outside after all.

Until yesterday.

When as I was putting on my snow pants to go shovel snow, he made his request, I used the open door method, at which point he raised his feathers, scrunched his eyes against the cold, and said pointedly and with clarity, just in case I'd gotten suddenly stupid or forgotten how to speak English, "WANT TO GO OUTSIDE!"

Okay. I set him on his perch and as I put on each article of clothing one after the other, I said, "See the coat. I have to wear a coat outside." I pointed at it. "You'll have to wear a coat if you to outside when it's cold." He cocked his head and looked at the coat with focus. "See the hat? I pointed. "If you go outside you'll have to wear a hat." He focused on the hat as I put it on my head. I started pulling on my boots. "See the boots?" You'll have to...."

"NO!" He said firmly with feeling, turned his back, and helped himself to a slice of apple.

The next thing I heard as I tied on my scarf, was, "Wanna watch TV."

Next up Dr. Len Soucy of The Raptor Trust talks about Old Gal, the "Oldest Red-tail" on National Public Radio
To hear the interview listen to Part One--

And last but not least, John Blakeman elaborates on The New York Times article concerning Old Gal, and North American Red-tails in general posted previously--


A few notes about the New York Times story on the 27-yr old wild Red-tail recovered from a roadside and now in rehabilitation. Two facts in the article should be elaborated upon.

First, the chances of this being an ancestor of Pale Male are quite remote. The article suggests, that because it was first trapped and banded in October north of New York City, it could be related to Pale Male. But the month of trapping, in October, is at the height of the autumnal migration of first-year Red-tails. Because of this trapping date, the bird could have hatched anywhere in all of New England or Eastern Canada. In October, it’s likely that the bird was in long-distance transit to parts south. It almost surely was not hatched anywhere near its trap site. Were it trapped in August or even September, the bird could have been a locally-hatched one. But that’s only a very small chance in October.

Secondly, the article implies that Red-tails are now in good shape because of the termination of DDT manufacture and use in the US. That, indeed, accounts for the recent proliferation of Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and Cooper’s Hawks, all of which were poisoned by DDT from dietary sources. But not so with the Red-tailed Hawk, which consumes very few birds (except for urban Red-tails who have learned to take city pigeons). Birds laden with DDT wiped out the breeding populations of Peregrine Falcons from the 1950 through the 1980s. Bald Eagles got poisoned by DDT in the fish they ate. Cooper’s Hawks were reduced by DDT in the passerine birds they ate.

That, thankfully, is all in the past. DDT no longer poisons North American wildlife in any appreciable manner. But it never threatened or reduced Red-tailed Hawk populations, as this species just doesn’t eat enough DDT-laden prey to make any difference.

The Red-tail’s contemporary abundance is only moderately greater than during the DDT era, and relates to today’s lack of hawk shooting (which isn’t "hunting") or incidental trapping by fox and raccoon trappers. Today, the Red-tailed Hawk has, with the exception of motor vehicles, no human threats. Conversely, the Red-tail has thrived in modern human environments, both now in cities and in agricultural rural areas. The Interstate highway system has been particularly favorable, providing thousands upon thousands of acres of roadside expanses of prime vole habitat. Voles are the prime food of the Red-tail.

–John Blakeman

Thank you John for sharing your expertise.

Donegal Browne


Karen Anne said...

DDT is apparently still taking out California condors. A DDT dumping ground created by Montrose Chemical in the 1950s and 1960s, until it was forced to stop dumping, is on the underwater Palos Verde Shelf and apparently contaminates fish, which are fed on by sea lions, which are fed on by the condors, resulting in condor fragile eggshells and failed breeding in that part of the California condor population.

The inland condor population appears unaffected. There are about 380 California condors now in the wild.

The seems to be some effort underway to cap part of (not all of) the underwater DDT sediment at Palos Verde, which is a Superfund site.

Condors are also poisoned by lead from eating animals shot with lead bullets.

Is there no limit to humans' ability to wreck the environment?

Anonymous said...

Re: the oldest red-tail hawk-perhaps I missed it but did any article mention just exactly WHERE this hawk was initially banded?

Donegal Browne said...

Len Soucy mentioned he had a banding station but whether Old Gal was banded there and exactly where it is, are questions to which I'll try to find answers.

Donegal Browne said...

Hello Anon,

I contacted the Raptor Trust and the Old Gal was indeed banded at Dr. Soucy's banding station on the the Kittatinny Ridge.
According to the National Raptor Migration Corridor Project "The Kittatiny and Raptor Corridor in northern New Jersey is a major, inland, autumn raptor (and other bird) migration flight-line and corridor within the Appalachian raptor migration flyway..."