Saturday, January 15, 2011

John Blakeman on the New Mate of Pale Male, First Day Lambs, Cat, Rabbit, Dove Tracks in Snow, Chris Crow, and a Kestrel

Photo by Francois Portmann
Pale Male's new mate in the Ramble.

Red-tailed Hawk expert John Blakeman talks about Pale Male's new mate and his prognosis for the 927 nest in the 2011 breeding season--


Francois Portmann's photograph of the new Pale Male consort on your website reveals that the new bird is a young adult. It has still rather yellow irises, which indicates that she's just in her second year. She was hatched in the spring of 2009 and is in her first adult year. Consequently, she has no nesting experience.

But all of this is exactly what I would have predicted. The new bird was a "floater," an unmated young adult looking for a mate and a territory. In this case, the new hawk has struck herself rich. She's been able to align herself with a premier tiercel, Pale Male himself, along with his now historic territory.

The new formel's (female) inexperience could raise questions. Will she be able to attend to all of what's required to hatch and fledge eyasses, even though she's never engaged in any of this? The answer leans toward "yes."

Many first-year formels, especially with experienced tiercels in established territories, are able to get all of their mothering duties together and bring off eyasses. There is a good possibility for eyasses this spring. But, in honesty, it's not assured, for two reasons. First is that inexperienced red-tail haggards, particularly when both are attempting parenthood for the first time, very commonly fail. They assemble a nest, but don't get it very well built or very well insulated. Then, if eggs hatch, they sometimes aren't able to find, kill, and bring back enough prey for the newly-hatched eyasses. For inexperienced young red-tail hawks, it often takes a season of failure, where the pair works out what really needs to happen for future successes. This is a normal part of red-tail biology, so if the 927 nest fails this year, I'll attribute it to the inexperience of the new formel.

But she's got Pale Male showing her how things should be done. He's been there and done it all so many times before.

All of that, of course, raises the question of the failures at the 927 nest since it was destroyed and then reconstructed on the new nest support structure. If Pale Male is so experienced, with so many earlier successes, what, then, were the exact causes of the continuing nest failures in recent years, with not a single hatched eyass? Frankly, neither I nor anyone else knows.

Early on, I contended that the new nest support structure allowed too much cold air under the nest and this artificially cooled the eggs. But I don't think that's been the case in the last year or two, where much more nest material has been added each spring; leaving only three probable failure causes: geriatric infertility on the part of Pale Male (which I continue to dismiss), infertility of the earlier formel, Lola, or lastly, some sort of poisoning (which I also discount, inasmuch as poisoning would present very revealing behavioral manifestations).

So, let's hope that it's the fault of the now departed Lola, bless her avian heart. Let's focus on the new mate. I think she has a fine chance of bringing eyasses back to the 927 nest, even though this will be her first, excited breeding attempt.

--John Blakeman

Thanks John, I can't wait to see what happens!

Next up--
Early today I received a text message saying that one of young Jenny Langer's sheep, she and they were featured in a previous post, had just had twin lambs. In fact Jenny, coached by her dad Bob, had had to assist the ewe in the delivery. I'd never seen one day old lambs before, so I shoveled my way out of the driveway, hopped into the car, and headed for the Langer Farm.

I found Jenny in the Langer kitchen, surrounded by dozens of containers of dozens of different kinds of cookies. Jenny's mom Mary is an amazing and prolific cook. As it turned out Mary wasn't around as she'd been sent off to Farm and Fleet, a store that caters to farmers and truckers, to get sheep milk and colostrum replacement formula. ( I have a feeling I'd be hard pressed to find either in Manhattan.) And Jenny's dad Bob was out spreading manure on their corn fields so we were in charge of checking on the lambs every hour.

Jenny and I pulled on our boots and extra layers and headed for the sheep shed.

And this is what we found. I thought little ewe lamb, named Perky, for her amazing stability on her new legs and ability to trot right over to the teat, looked a bit like she'd been hit by a car. I stuck my hand in and rubbed her ears, they were a bit cold as she'd decided to sleep in the far corner away from the the heat lamp, but she roused and Jenny carried her over to the warm spot.

This is larger ram lamb, named Martin for having been born on Martin Luther King's Birthday. It appears that wildlife rehabilitator Cathy Horvath's theory that young male hawks get into and have more trouble than young female hawks holds true for sheep as well. Young Martin here took a long time to stand up and he's still not all that hot at eating.

In case you're wondering why this ewe always has hay all over her face, I was so I asked, her preferred method of eating is to bury her head in the hay barrel.

Ram Lamb on the left, with a good section of umbilical cord still hanging from his belly, appears to be smiling while Ewe Lamb is back to eating.

Speaking of eating, the ewe has an udder problem. Sheep have an udder with two teats. For some reason I had the idea that the udder as a whole manufactured milk which was dispensed by both teats. This turns out not to be the case. The udder is compartmentalized. One half creates milk for one teat, and the other half creates milk for the second teat. There's no cross over. The problem in this case is that one section of the udder is doing it's job and the other section isn't working. Which means only half the amount of milk is being created, only one teat works, and there are twin lambs. According to the vet, at maximum production the one teat that is working will only create 75% of the milk that each lamb needs. Hence Mary's trip to Farm and Fleet.

More on this later but now, a short tangent as I want to know about sheep tails.

Okay, have you ever heard the expression, "three shakes of lamb's tail" as a way to say something happened rapidly? Previous to this I've never seen what a shake of a lamb's tail looked like. It's actually quite odd. A lamb's tail, or a sheep's tail for that matter, is really quite limp. So it shakes from the base and the rest wiggles and curls round quickly but limply.

And the reason I'd not seen one though I had seen any number of sheep is because the tails are ordinarily docked. Why? I asked. And was told that as the tails just hang there limply and can't be lifted by the animal except from the base when defecating...well, you get the picture.

My question then becomes what do sheep tails look like in wild sheep. Why would an animal evolve who's tail will almost certainly be covered in excrement all the time?

Humans have "evolved" domestic sheep by selective breeding for what we're going to use them for . And my suspicion is that the tails of wild sheep and domesticated sheep are different in some way. Either a difference in structure or in the amount of wool on them could make a difference to the issue.

It turns out that although the ewe was in labor, for some reason, she wasn't pushing and she was bleating a good deal. It was decided that she was having trouble delivering . Therefore Bob told Jenny to pull her right arm out of her sweatshirt and coat. She did. She then put on a glove that went all the way up to her shoulder and inserted her arm into the ewe. While being directed by her dad as to what to feel for. Eventually she found a pair of rear hoofs and was told to pull. She did. She'd gotten the legs pulled out and then let go. Everyone then expected that the ewe would then push the lamb the rest of the way out. Nope. During the next contraction he popped back inside and she had to do it again.

Mom attempts to rouse Martin in hopes of getting him up and eating as he's a slow learner. Smaller Perky, alternatively, is making sure she gets her share and more.

The other ewes have come inside to see how things are going. They seem quite fond of watching the new babies.

The ram Sherman has been moved from his original pen in the shed to the Siberia of sheep pens much closer to the open door. Don't worry he's a big guy and he can take it. In fact he's only penned as rams, similar to bulls, aren't all that trustworthy and have actually been known to kill people in a snit. His previous pen had to be given to the ewe who was thought not ready to give birth yet , but being of another opinion on the matter, she delivered her lamb into a snow bank, two days earlier.

Speaking of Sherman, for whatever reason and I'm told he doesn't do it with anyone else, but when I speak to him, he cocks his head and appears to be listening intently.

Have you noticed how tiny Sherman's ears are? Look at the ewe above again. Those are a far more normal size for sheep ears. In fact the lamb's ears are bigger than Sherman's are.

Mom tries to get Martin to get up and eat again. But it's time for Mom to get the shots that may help get the other side of her udder going.
Bob and Jenny hold the ewe in the corner of the stall and Bob digs though the wool down to skin for the inter-muscular injection. Perky true to her name is not to be left out and has scampered over to watch the proceedings.

Being next to mom is important no matter what.

Ram Lamb is a bit confused as to where the udder is located.

Mom takes a rest next to Ram Lamb. She's had rather a hard day herself, delivering twins with hoofs after all.

Mom nudges Martin into place. She does seem to be paying attention to who's eating and who's not.

Mom keeps a sharp eye on Jenny as she attempts to cut the floppy edges off Ram Lambs coat so they don't catch on anything.

All in all, everyone is doing pretty well.

The Annoyed kitten.
In actuality he probably isn't annoyed all the time, he just looks it. He has extra thick hair on his forehead and somehow that makes him appear annoyed or that is Jenny's supposition anyway.

I figure it's time for me to head out before it gets so dark that I loose my way trying to get home. Besides I want to get back to the house and check out some of the tracks in the snow.

Domestic house cat tracks. A walking Cat often steps onto the spot it has previously stepped, overlaying the previous print. Making the tracks appear as a single file line of prints.

Note the overlap of two different feet . Also note there are no claw prints for obvious reasons. Kitty feet have retractable claws.

Rabbit tracks. if it looks like slightly off kilter exclamation points, you've got bunny tracks.

Bisecting rabbit and cat tracks.

And last but not least, Mourning Dove tracks in the snow.

Christopher Crow takes off from the bird bath and heads for the goodie stump.

Just beyond the new pole is a small bird and that bird is a Kestrel. I see them so infrequently that I pulled over into a snow bank, while the other traffic zipped by and tried to get his photograph. This guy was wary and before I got anywhere near him he was off the wire and heading into the woods. Considering the crash in the Kestrel population outside cities, wariness is perhaps the reason that he's still around.

Donna Browne

No comments: