Friday, March 26, 2010

NAME THOSE HAWKS, Doves Don't Do it in Public and NYC Red-tail Updates

Hi Donegal,
I read recently on your blog about ravens - so I wanted to share these photos of a recent encounter I had with a redtail and raven (maybe?).
Last week I was in Arkansas visiting my daughter and while she was in class, I headed to one of my favorite places on the Caddo River near Arkadelphia ( 70 miles southwest of Little Rock). As I was getting ready to drive off, a redtail hawk flew into the clearing I was in! I quickly parked again and jumped out with my camera at the ready

... the redtail soon took off with a couple of large black birds following loudly in pursuit (ravens or crows?).

After about 90 seconds, the redtail circled ever higher and disappeared as the forest became quieter again.
Several weeks ago when I was in the same area, several hawks (Coopers or red shouldered, my photos were not clear enough for me to tell) were also being harassed by these black birds. I suspect they have a nest in the area the redtail flew into this last time.

I will also send along an update on Kay and Jay and their nest!
All my best - Cheryl

What is it about Red-tailed Hawks that makes them so rideable? Though this one looks to be heading down which might make it a little more difficult for the rider to peck at her head.
Cheryl, I think what you have here is a battle of Crows vs Red-tailed Hawk.
I got out my handy dandy Peterson's Field Guide and refreshed my memory about the sizes of the birds in question.
Red-tailed Hawks range from 19 t0 24 inches. American Crows come in at 17 to 21 and the Common Raven at 22 to 27 inches. Therefore looking at the size difference in the photographs I'm coming down on the side of Crows and Crows are infamous for taking on Red-tailed Hawks. Though smaller, given enough Crows they can become a real danger for Red-tails.

And yes, one of the NYC Coyotes was nabbed, from Robin of Illinois-


From hawkwatcher Peter Richter--

I posted a few updates on my blog-- Athena is now incubating eggs at Astoria Park, nest building still continues in Woodside, and I can't seem to figure out what is going on over at 1 fifth avenue. I plan to visit the Unisphere tom. where I believe I will find the female sitting on eggs, and 1 fifth avenue again Sunday to see if anything is happening with that nest. If you could ask your readers to come up with some names for all 3 pairs (Unisphere, Woodside- I'm considering Harry and Sally, and 1 fifth avenue), I'm getting tired of calling them male and female!!!




From graduate student Zach Lemle who lives near the 1 Fifth nest.

Things are very heavy with school at the moment, I only have 6 weeks left until graduation so the work seems to be coming to a head. I was away for a week and when I got back in was raining so I didn't see either of them for a few days. I saw one fly past my window once this past week but I have not noticed as much activity as I had in the previous weeks. Admittedly I haven't had as much time to pay attention but I'll spend more time looking.

As for names, to me the most logical always seemed like George and Martha, if they live in his namesake park they might as share their names. Archie seems a little silly to me (but that's just me!).

And speak of the devil, I just saw one of them land on the green cornice on one of the NYU buildings across the park, I'll see if I can get some new pictures. Speak soon.

- Zach


I wondered if life might be getting in the way of hawkwatching, it happens to us all now and again.

As to the names George and Martha, I’m pretty sure that there is already a George and Martha in town. So though apropos to these birds, someone beat us to the punch.

If these hawks have started sitting the nest, which they very well may have, there will be less action compared to when they were working on the nest. They'll switch several times a day for the female to eat and have breaks but that's pretty much it for activity during incubation unless you see the male hunting or an intruder comes into the territory. And unwelcome visitor can cause lots of screaming and a hot pursuit.

THE WISCONSIN REPORT--Still no sign of the County Rd. M Red-tails but other birds are doing their spring thing...

I'd seen this young pair of Mourning Doves a few days ago warming themselves on the cement curb, than again as the male, the tall glass of water on the right, was driving the little plump bisquit of a female across the road.

"Driving" part of the dove family courting ritual, consists of the male following the female closely, every minute of the day so no other males can butt in. Mourning doves are rather polite about driving actually, giving the female some feet between himself and her tail. Pigeons on the other hand are so close when driving that they practically walk on the females tail.

They then flew up to the corner of the roof of an adjacent house, the female leaning over in an invitation to copulate and the male is about to take her up on it, when she notices I'm still watching.

Then he notices what she has noticed and gives me a look.

Then walks away from the hen still looking at me.

Then they are both staring at me--waiting. It is then I remember I've never once seen Mourning Doves copulate and it is clear why. They just aren't going to do it if you're looking. Feeling like some Peeping Tom, I drive away. I've no doubt they then got back to the matter at hand.

A swatch of rabbit fur (?) in the garden.

With the thaw one can see this well used rodent trail to the garden, that previously was covered with snow.

A closer look. It is beginning to get dark but the Robins are still calling at full voice.

I look up at the moon, in the sky of azure and clearly outlined against the blue, the Maple buds are swollen and about to burst. And today was the first day in which the male squirrels have begun to chase the females.


Earlier today at the NYBG, I saw a young red-tail hunting, or rather, trying to hunt by the twin lakes.

I've uploaded three photos on to my flickr page. Here is the direct link to one of them.

Also, attached is a pic of a coopers hawk deeply entrenched in the wild wetlands. It was impossible to get a clear shot. Nextime, I'll ask him to move. : )

Donegal Browne

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Motherlode of Twigs and Cruising the Countryside for Webbed Feet

Remember my bout of twig envy? It has continued unabated. Today, I'd loaded all the equipment into the car, gotten directions to several possible water fowl areas I'd not been to previously, and was heading down the road when---THERE! THERE! A bijillion twigs just sitting there in the spot where the city would come along and put them into their chopper but I WANTED those twigs.

I've decided that instead of just making a portion of nest that the true test would be to make more of a complete one. Other lessons to be learned no doubt in doing the full deal. And as luck would have it the "owners" of the twigs were busily putting more out. I asked if they were going to be doing anything with them. They said, "No." And I said, I was making a human sized hawk nest as a project and could I have them. The smiled broadly and said, "No problem, but you'll have to beat the city truck to them."

So I turned around in a flash and headed back to the house to switch the car for my Dad's 1977 Ford pick-up.

Then I started throwing the branches with their bijillion twigs into the truck. Too much space being taken by not enough twigs. I started putting the big chunks on top to squeeze it down to make more room. Finally I got them all in, and headed back home suddenly wondering just how I was going to get them all into the backyard.

What had I gotten myself into?

Decided to think about it later, and headed off for those water filled Wisconsin depressions so popular with web-footed migrates.

I went through my list of spots, but kept hitting big zeros worth of water fowl. Finally along Highway 26 with one semi truck after another barreling by and the wind practically knocking the tripod over...

This Canada Goose gander, alert, guards his selected section of turf and his mate.

His mate preens herself without needing to be particularly vigilant just below him, though she did give me a look every now and again.

Swimming against the wind and waves, the larger ducks break the way. (I took a video of all these guys diving but unfortunately the video was too large to put on the blog.)

Buffleheads in the rear, and Ring-necked in the front. The way to tell a male Ring-necked duck from a Scaup is the white patch at the front of the wing.

Note the Buffleheads.

Male Ring-necked Duck

A pair of Canada Geese come in for a landing.


Some Canada Geese have arrived at their destination and are paired up, but others nap getting ready for further flight.

Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus, one of the scrappers of the bird kingdom.

The wind was gusting up to 40 MPH and temperatures were plummeting. While yesterday was in the 60's, tonight will be in the teens.

No M red-tails in sight and the nest has lost some twigs due to the weather. ???

I looked down the way and this horse was really chewing away on this wooden fence post.

Oops! Caught in the act. He seemed to give me a horse laugh and went right on back to chewing. I'd always heard about horse laughs-- I wonder if he knows about all those twigs I stuffed into the truck?

Donegal Browne

Jeff Kollbrunner of is one of those who has been watching the nesting Ravens in Queens. He's sent along some pictures for us to enjoy

I've included four images of the Queens, NY Ravens and their 2009 and 2010 nest.

Two of the images are from 2009 when we first discovered the nest. One image is a close up of the Raven on the grass and the other is one of the Ravens sitting in the 2009 nest.

The other two images were taken on March 20, 2010 as one of the Ravens just landed next to the nest, you can see the wing of the second Raven in the nest just to the right and the second image as the Raven enters the nest.

They are using the same nest from 2009 for 2010, the nest looks about the same at first glance but it has been built up since 2009. For the protection and safety of the Ravens we are being very general about their location.

I will be updating my website for the first time since last October to be completed this week and will continue to post updates and images on a regular basis once again. There will be updates and images on Mama and Papa as they're entering their 25th day of nesting for the 2010 season. I will also post additional images of the Ravens and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo that has also visited Queens, NY.

All the best, Jeff

Thanks Jeff, and Readers don't forget to check out his site once it is updated. By the way, for those who are new readers, Mama and Papa are the pair of very successful urban Red-tails that Jeff and his wife Anna have followed for many many years.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ravens Infiltrate the City, Squirrels Surmount all Odds, and Doorstep Dove Does a New Step

Photo courtesy of
The Common Raven, Corvax corax
You can see how someone might take this Raven for a Crow at a distance. But the bill shape, the voice, and the SIZE whenever that can be compared in perspective give the species away.

And guess what folks? Ravens have returned to the City and are nesting. How very cool is that? They are some of my favorite birds and also some of the smartest. Who knows, Samantha Raven at the cemetery may have some friends of her own kind one day. Rob Jett, of the City Birder reports on a Raven's nest in Queens County--

Photo courtesy of
And here we have some of that perspective I was talking about when it comes to the size of these guys. When compared with the human you can see that Ravens are definitely big birdies. This one was captured for a blood sample in research regarding the immune system and West Nile Virus. In some areas 95% of Corvids have died of West Nile.

Interesting tangent--Domestic chickens, Western Bluebirds, and pigeons appear to be immune to West Nile. And the question of course is why?

In the when there is a will there is a way category. I particularly like the tail flopped over the top for added balance. And by the way, there is a baffle on that pole. Hasn't stood in this guys way one little bit.

It turns out that Doorstep Dove has particularly grand balance. For whatever reason she decided that when I came to the door, that she'd go into a freeze, take a beat, and then continue her foraging. Note her left foot in the air.

Here is the what-are-you-looking-at moment.
Then she turned and began to make her way in the other direction, took a freeze with her right foot up, took a beat, and went back to her business.
It's just to show that you can watch an individual bird for years, even of as common a species as a Mourning Dove and then suddenly be surprised by a completely new and different behavior. The lesson being-- no individual living creature is ever truly "common".
Donegal Browne

Arizona Raptor and Couldn't That Plastic Bag in the Bowl of the Nest Suffocate an Eyass?

Photo by Paul Anderson

Wisconsinite Paul Anderson and wife Marian, have been on a trip in the west and saw this bird which they couldn't identify. They are not as yet birders. But as they noticed her and asked, I think an interest has been kindled.


I took these on Saturday near Prescott AZ. I'm standing under a high tension line and you can see the wires in one shot, that gives you a perspective how high he is! Sorry it isn't any finer but that was max optic zoom to get what I did.


Photo by Paul Anderson


What you've got here is a big western Red-tailed Hawk. See the patagial bar, the dark patch on the "shoulders"? Also see the wrist coma and of course the signature orange tail. Also look carefully and you can see just the shadow of a belly band. She does look big doesn't she?


A while back Brett Odom, who has the office overlooking Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte’s nest, expressed concern about a plastic bag that they had placed in the bowl of the nest. I sent it along to John Blakeman who had originally been concerned by plastic in previous nests that he’d observed but after watching, saw that water did not puddle and interfere with the gas exchange of the eggs and that a plastic bag lining worked just as well as the more natural materials hawks usually use.

Brett then sent me this email in response, he said—

This is good news. But I was mostly concerned with suffocation once the eyass has hatched. The bag isn't woven into the nesting material. It is in there fairly loosely, and whenever the wind blows, the bag blows around also. Is it possible for the bag to blow over the eyass and suffocate it?

I thought about that too...the whole thing about not putting plastic in a baby’s crib for fear of them suffocating, right? I'd say it was a possibility though probably freakishly rare. A problem in particular, if the plastic was blown completely over a very young eyass totally obscuring him.

One thing about Charlotte though, she is pretty savvy and thinks on her feet. She is absolutely the only female I've seen that stopped a youngster just up off his haunches from falling out of the nest. She calculated he was not going to stop in time and not being able to use beak or feet/talons to stop him she strode over and sat on him. Problem solved.

She is a very observant mom, who will also pull something they've swallowed whole that's too big out immediately if the eyass actually have their airway covered. If it's just stuck and they can breath she lets them learn the lesson by waiting before pulling it out--when they then invariably do it a couple more times with the same rat before it sinks in. Charlotte is very patient but also watches very carefully for possible problems for the eyasses.

My fear with the plastic bag over the eyass though is that without the visual cue of the eyass itself she won't realize he's under there and therefore won't be cued to do anything about it. Or what if the youngster just became covered up and then was trod on? Being an experienced mother perhaps she'd see the eyass wiggling, or realize she was missing one, and do something. I don't know.

Now there's a question. Would she know she was missing one if he were covered with plastic?

The common wisdom is that raptors can't count and that is the reason an orphaned eyass of common age can be put into a nest and readily nurtured. I'm not sure the parents don't know there is another one, my thought is that it is possible that they just don't care that another has appeared. An eyass is begging; the eyass gets fed. Parrots can tell you "How many?" so it is a concept that some avian species have, so shouldn't necessarily be discounted as a possibility at least in my opinion.

Also Red-tails learn from experience and a mature pair, like Junior and Charlotte, are just better parents than a couple of first nest parents. I wonder if that is why in the hawks that have lost mates lately, the replacements have been quite young.

Pale Male did not have a successful nest until he mated with an older more experienced female. Then after some year of successful nests with various mates Pale Male chose Lola who's eyes were light, very likely a first time mom. One experienced parent raises the possibility of successful young exponentially.'

Another thought. eyasses though used to being sat upon, perhaps similar to being covered with a bag if he wasn't being directly stifled, if experiencing discomfort vocalizes. If the eyass got hungry he would fidget and beg, if being pressured physically by something on the other side of the bag, he'd squawk and this would get the parent's attention. Hawk parents investigate when they hear their offspring in distress..

Besides it is probably much more likely that debris of whatever kind may collect to hold the bag down or the parents themselves will lay some other materials on top of the bag and hold the plastic down by the time it could become a danger to the little guys.


I’d asked about the status of Junior and Charlotte’s nesting activities and received this note in response from Brett—

I have not noticed any eggs yet, or brooding behavior from Charlotte. And with the weather not cooperating today, it will probably be hard to tell if any eggs or a sitting Charlotte is behind the panes of glass. Also, with a white plastic shopping bag now lining the nest, it will probably be hard to know if there are any eggs. But I will keep you informed if I see either parents sitting on the nest for long periods of time.

Brett B. Odom

Thanks Brett!

Donegal Browne

Monday, March 22, 2010


Once again I couldn't see so much as a feather in the M County Rd. nest, but Rob Schmunk of had better luck with the Highbridge pair, George and Martha-

Last weekend's weather delayed my trip up to Highbridge
Park to check on the red-tail nest near George Washington
High School. I was able to to get up there today and found
last year's nest was completely gone and the area seemingly
deserted. The general area looked like it took a hit in the big
storm last August, and although the 2007/2009 nest tree is
still there, it lost some limbs.

But... I did find Martha and George were still around and had
built a new nest. (No big surprise about that. They've built
a new nest at least three years in a row now.) They have moved
several blocks north and are now right across Harlem River Dr
from PS 5, about a block south of the intersection of Dyckman
St and Tenth Ave and almost directly over the park path.

Although the new nest is easy to spot, it is 60-70 feet up and
there are no good vantage points to look into the nest from a
sideways angle. It is shallow enough that you can often see
Martha's head sticking up.


The slight warming the day after the drop in temperatures and snowfall, brought in a whole new group of the smaller birds. Suddenly the Nuthatches were back, both the Red-breasted and the White-breasted.

A Song Sparrow foraged in the snow melt under the glider.

Again today I went out hoping for a glimpse of the M Red-tails. No movement I could see on the nest. Neither were they on the number of power poles they hunt from. But way way over there, to the left of the silo, I could just see a large bird circling and then quickly disappearing in a descent. Could that be one of Ms? Are they hunting around Mud Lake?

That would be a big no. Once I hiked down the steep path below the carpark, what did I see? A rather large congregation of gulls standing around on the frozen lake for no particular reason I could see. But then again I'm not a gull.
Back in town the Black-capped Chickadees had become very active. This one nips a sunflower seed from the pot and as is usual behavior for Chickadees, she doesn't eat it on the spot.

Rather she flies up into a tree, and begins eating it. Being dinky she doesn't swallow it shell and all like a Jay or even get the kernel in her beak and deal with it as many finches do. The chickadee technique is to hold it with a foot, get to the kernel, and take numerous bites. While she eats hers, a second chickadee goes down to grab a sunflower seed. No two Chickadees at a feeder at the same time. It seems to be a rule.

The second bird also flies up into a tree to eat it.

And the cycle begins again.

For whatever reason, male Junco who seems perfectly healthy, active, and on top of things, didn't leave with the others when they began making their migration.

Perhaps free spirited individualists can appear in any species.

The Pussy Willows have popped their catkins.

And the Robins?
The Robins are just everywhere.
Donegal Browne