Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Red-tail vs The Crows and Yeah, It's Five Below Zero

5:08:13pm It's COLD, past sunset by a good half hour and into civil twilight. So when I come out of the Dollar Store, having neglected to put on my gloves as it's only 20 feet to the car, all I'm thinking about is getting into the car as rapidly as possible. I open the car door, and suddenly it registers that I'm hearing a whole lot of crows talking about something.

And that something could be interesting.

Therefore instead of grabbing my gloves off the car seat, getting into the car, closing the door, starting the engine, and putting on the gloves--I grab my camera and head for the rear of the parking lot beyond which the crows are up to something in the evergreens.

What are they doing up there?

Everybody settles onto the primary tip of a spruce and ....and what? That looks like a defensive position. What's going on?

I finally check the big tree behind Dollar General, something I ordinarily do automatically when I come here but I think my brain was frozen and I forgot. Sure enough there is something up there that might just be a Red-tailed Hawk. See it?

5:12:02 Though I can still hear the crows calling I can only see one. What now? I look over to the big deciduous tree and start walking toward it . Usually even if I'm this close to a hawk in this tree, she will take off in a NY minute but not so far today.

5:12:02 There he is and he's watching that tree line and not currently interested in me at all.

5:14:53 He's really up there.

5:15:36 BUSTED. He can see me. I completely expected him to take off like most country hawks but he didn't even though I was standing right under his tree. Though it is a huge tree. True he's young, and perhaps hasn't had bad experiences with humans yet or he's on his way through and was urban hatched and human habituated or and it's just late in the day. Whatever the case I suspect he finds the murder of crows a much greater danger than I am. He sticks.

5:16:57 Fixed look

5:17:01 I look but I can't see what he sees. Perhaps the crows are now moving within the boughs of the spruce trees as opposed to perching on the primary tips.

5:17:03 Kheeeeeee

Now a different spot gets a fixed look.

5:17:41 And another kheeeee

5:17:43 Satisfied?


5:19:30 Eyes move along tree line-- A spirited Kheeee. I'm not seeing any crows so perhaps what he's doing is working.


5:20:29 Scanning

5:20:44 Oh ho, one has broken cover and watches crow fly by at 30 yards but is not vocalizing.


5:22:09 Looks kind of little way up there, but we've seen he's got spunk.

5:22:56 Crow goes left to east. The ruff comes up on the back of his head. Kheeee!

5:23:15 Note he's positioned himself so that there are branches directly above his head. It does help anyone from getting a high dive directly down onto the top of his head.

5:23:53 Scans Spruce line.

5:24:08 Sees Crow take flight, it semi-circles towards him but then goes back and keeps flying out of sight. The crows may be calling it a day?

5:24:10 Two seconds later-- Kheeeeee

5:14:13 Checking the Spruce line.

5:24:20pm No kheees for 10 minutes. Things seem to have calmed down.

Still scanning. Back lit by the moon.

5:25:17pm I've been walking back round the tree and it almost looked like he tucked his head for a moment, but I can't be sure with all the twigs on this side. When I jumped out of the car with the camera I didn't bring my gloves and with the below zero weather my hands are really feeling it. Time to head back to the car.

P.S. I went back at dusk the next day and he wasn't roosting here. Much better to claim an evergreen somewhere or with the snow depth perhaps he decided to take a little sojourn further south. The few remaining ducks that were still using the bits of open water on the river went yesterday.


P.S. Took me forever to get his post to go up so there may well be another posted in a couple of hours as things have collected over the last few days. Check back.

Donna Browne

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The day before the big snow, I was keeping three dogs for friends who were out of town. I'd been distracted by the dogs so when I looked out and saw dozens of birds sitting on the wires in the back of the yard, staring at the back door, and waiting, even though it had gotten late for the afternoon seed I dropped everything and got it out there. The Big Snow was coming and they and I both knew they were going to need their meal before roosting.

Guilty, I put out a double helping.

And then it came, and came and came. The wind began to blow with vigor and the temperature plummeted to below zero.

The next day, I waited for the rush to the feeders but no one came, that I saw anyway. Was it the dogs? Needless to say the dogs didn't spend any longer than absolutely necessary outside and being of the very short legged variety they didn't do much running around even when they were out there. The snow was so deep they rather floundered around in it very briefly and then galumphed back inside. But still, no birds. No Doorstep Dove and Friend either I began taking the dogs out the front door, just in case they were an issue.

I stood staring out the backdoor. Where were they? Then whoosh, the Cooper's Hawk sailed across the yard and went that-a-way into the trees above.

Was she still out there somewhere? There was nobody in sight but the snow woman and her child staring into icy infinity.

Looking around, I realized the strange clunk I'd heard during the storm was the cracking of a limb off the Maple that thankfully it didn't make a direct hit on the roof with the stout section.

Where were the birds?

Ah, the sparrows were emerging from their snow covered stick pile. The Coop must be gone.

Silver watched as some juncos arrived.

And then there she was, Doorstep Dove, accompanied by Friend, peering in the door as the sparrows headed back to the pile and Silver got into a serious preening session.

The little birds returned but still Doorstep stared. At first I thought she was looking at me but she didn't do a head bob in my direction which is her usual behavior to me. I return the bob and she goes about her business. Was she looking at the parrot?

She then marched up and looked directly through the window, while Friend peered from the side. Seemingly having satisfied herself about whatever it was. everyone then proceeded to eat.

A while later I looked back, everyone was gone and Silver was puffed up having a late afternoon nap.

Well not everyone was gone., Mr. Downy and a male House Finch were having a few sunflower seeds before bed.

H. Finch gave us a stare while he shucked.

I looked up and there were Doorstep and Friend--not off to roost just yet. Instead they'd taken their particular perch in the maple tree to catch the last warm rays of the day.

The sparrows often do the same, on the top of the pile but the sun had moved behind the spruce and one by one they were retiring into the shelter of their now almost igloo stick pile. The cover of snow making it even snugger than before.

Donna Browne

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Good Judge and the Endangered Palili bird, Blakeman on Hawk Housing, and the "Queen" of the New York Botanical Garden Passes 
Photo courtesy of  Brennan Mulrooney
From Rhode Island Contributor Karen Anne Kolling...INDEED!

Oh to be a judge:
"His favorite and longest-running case involved protecting a small finch-billed bird, the Palila, by removing wild goats and sheep from the slopes of a volcano. He ruled in 1979 that the bird had standing to sue in federal court and monitored the bird’s welfare for the rest of his life. "

Remember yesterday I asked about the covering of the perch the Boston Train Station Cooper's was sitting on? Here's some thoughts from Oho Hawk and Prairie expert John Blakeman--

"And a raptor rehab question-- What health problem of captive raptors is ameliorated by the covering of the above perch? "
Well, none in particular. It’s a bit curious, as this loose wrapping of cotton (or whatever it is) provides no particularly helpful perch gripping surface.
It was probably used so that it could be easily changed and cleaned, providing to the supposedly injured hawk a clean perch surface that would not allow microbes to get smeared around and infect injured skin openings on the feet (if there were any).
I think this perch surface is merely incidental to someone’s thoughts on how an accipiter hawk (here, the Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii) should be housed.
More important and significant is the lattice screening on the sides of the chamber. This is crucial, inasmuch if the bird were to have been put in a conventional cage-like chamber with wire sides, the hawk would instinctively have tried to fly right through it, just as a wild Cooper’s can easily and without injury fly through tree and shrub branches and limbs. Those are woody and bend, and the hawk maneuvers through them with profound alacrity. Not so with hard, immovable cage wire.The lattice of the chamber allows the bird to sit quietly and without distress, while still being to see out into the adjacent landscape.
–John Blakeman
Thanks John, I knew that lattice sided cages were recommended but was never told why, I therefore simplistically surmised it had something to do with their grasping the wire being hard on their feet and beaks. Thanks for the real scoop.
John's right in that the outside covering of the perch is partially to provide an easily cleanable surface for hawk feet. just throw it into the washing machine and put a clean one on. It also likely has some padding underneath as well. Some aviaries use AstroTurf but it tends if not scrupulously cleaned often to harbor bacteria.
The issue is Bumblefoot, a kind of catch all phrase for sores developing on the underside of the feet of captive birds. These can be pressure sores, a splinter prick that becomes infected due to environmental bacteria and spreads, all sorts of things can start Bumblefoot including sitting on the same kind of perch all the time, not enough exercise, being too chubby, you name it. Bird skin heals rapidly but if it heals bacteria under the skin or other forgien matter, or they have pressure wounds that don't heal because of constant pressure in the same areas day after day, things can get out of hand very quickly and sometimes birds must have feet amputated or must be put down as the infection has gotten completely out of control. So that's with the funny perch "slip cover".

And from Bill Walters, gleaner of relevant information from the New York Times--BETH STRAUS WHO REVAMPED THE NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDENS DIES AT 94
Ms. Straus helped to change the garden's image from that of a public park to that of a museum and an educational institution.
Donna Browne