Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sam Says It's a Hatch as Do the Rest of This Evenings Hawk Bench Warmers!!!

Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters
It was around 6PM and very wet when daughter Samantha arrived at the Bench. Already holding the Bench down in the rain, with the company of a couple of chubby NYC pigeons, and some begging squirrels were, from the left in deep discussion about the nest activity-- Stella, Katherine, Kenturian, and Margaret. Sam of course was there but behind the camera.

Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters

About 6:25 Ginger, got up out of the nest and began tearing a piece of prey into small bits. She then put her head into the nest bowl.

Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters

A slightly larger thumbnail.

Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters
Then her beak would go to the prey and then back into the bowl with slight poking movements.

Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters
There was consensus at The Bench. It's a HATCH!!!!

After 6 years of horrid disappointment, IT HAS FINALLY HAPPENED!!!

What a stunner.

Photograph courtesy of
In the meantime, once-again-dad Pale Male is over on the railing of the Oreo building being attacked by a Kestrel. He guards the territory, hunts all day, and what does he get? No respect, that's for sure. But it is all part of the job. He allows himself to be a target and keeps Kestrel interested in him as opposed to Mom and the kid(s).

Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters
Every season for the last six years I've watched this nest for at least part of each season. In 2005 I watched it exclusively until finally Lola, after an extra month of sitting, ragged feathered and a brood patch gone purple from pressing against the underlying cradle spikes, she gave up the nest. Pale Male then tried to tempt her back with tasty tidbits and sat himself for long hours hoping she would return. Finally he too, gave up.

It was an emotional crusher.

After the destruction of the nest in 2004, the protesting in bitter cold, leading the revolt with Honk for Hawks on Fifth Avenue, world wide pressure on the condo board, panels of experts deciding how to build something for the nest to sit atop, and its installation. And Pale Male and Lola had taken to rebuilding their nest like a dream. The Model Boat Pond crammed with people waiting for a hatch that never came.

Would it have been better not to have insisted that they be allowed to nest on their old site? Something had gone wrong. Who were we humans to think we could do it better than the hawks did? If not able to use 927 would Pale Male and Lola have found a new nest site and there would have been a hatch like usual?

First the meddling of tearing down the nest was a travesty, but had we made it worse by settling for the carriage? As it was a different set up should we have said, don't bother and Pale Male and Lola would have found a new site and all would have been well?

Speaking of hawk watching despair, we had bitter years of it. It was physically painful but as time went by I knew I was still very sad about it but somehow we accepted that quite probably there would never be eyasses in Pale Male's nest again. We lived with it.

Then yesterday, when I was alerted that there might be a hatch on Pale Male's nest. I sat down and wept. Tears made of years pain, and now possible relief and happiness! Eureka! We might have done okay by Pale Male, the human trusting hawk, after all!

So what did go wrong? I've been thinking about this constantly since hope reared her lovely head on the 20th. I began comparing the breeding history of Pale Male and Lola with that of Charlotte and Pale Male Jr. from 2005 on in my head.

It was late in the 2005 season when Pale Male and Lola gave up their nest. By then we knew that the Trump Parc nest of Charlotte and Junior had once again failed as well. Their eggs had blown off the nest, yet again.

Then there was a rumor that there was activity around the Trump Parc nest which most watchers discounted. It was too late for anything to happen and besides the nest site wasn't the least bit watcher friendly. Unless a hawk was standing near the edge of corbel on the Trump Parc there was nothing to see at all. Zip.

Whatever the case, I was miserable about Pale Male and Lola and even if there was the slightest chance something was happening on the Trump, I was going to go look.

I trundled back and forth in hot summer weather with a rolly bag full of equipment on the very south end of Central Park right up next to the wall looking for a spot that might give even a speck of better viewing of the nest. Eventually I set up and made myself keep my eyes glued to the corbel. Nothing could be seen of twigs or nesting materials. I waited. I waited for hours. Nothing. Then, it didn't take more than 5 seconds and if I'd glanced away I'd have missed it. A hawk came out from behind a building, landed on the corbel and another took off the corbel and disappeared behind an another building on the other side.

It was a pair doing a switch of a nest in a near blink of an eye. There had to be eggs up there! And there were. They'd double clutched. Two healthy eyasses, Big and Little, fledged off the Trump that summer of 2005.

In 2006 both nests failed, but a dog walker had seen a nest on the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. The walker told hawk watchers. It was the nest of Isolde and Tristan.

In I think 2007, Junior and Charlotte moved to 888, a space that could not be seen from the ground. But Brett Odom could see it from his office and sometimes Lincoln Karim found a seat with a view in an adjacent building. We watched by proxy. That year they only had one egg hatch. And it was Ziggy, the fledgling that came down into Ziegfield Plaza and created a sensation during rush hour and then became entangled with many city departments with their many experts. But Isolde and Tristan came through with Big Sister and Little Brother. 927 failed again.

Then Charlotte and Junior failed year after year or didn't nest at all. One year, and egg was laid, but Charlotte was acting very odd (neurological issues?) and did not brood it. This year 2011, they've not been seen really and the hope is they nest in a spot we've not discovered. But upon thought, it appears to me that they had started having serious fertility problems.

In the meantime, the spikes that had so enpurpled Lola's brood patch and had been chilling the eggs were removed. How could they not have been, they were so close they were bruising her and were connected to exposed metal in the outside air. And still Lola and Pale Male failed. Was Pale too old? Had he become infertile? But we'd heard of hawks years older than Pale Male who were fertile to the end of their lives.

Now we know, Pale Male is not infertile. It was likely Lola who was infertile

Here is my hypotheses. As Pale Male and Lola had had a healthy clutch in 2004, but the eggs didn't hatch in 2005, it was the cradle not sudden infertility that caused the failure.

We now know that increasing low levels of rat poison in a hawk can cause infertility, accidents do occur due to neurological difficulties, and eventually death.

The more frequented portions of Central Park and hence areas with restaurants and food venders have more rat poison laid in them. Pale Male is perfectly capable of hunting rats which he does for mates who like them but personally he prefers avian meals. Lola seemed always to prefer mammals.

If we use the fertility decline of Charlotte and Junior as a rough gauge and compare it to Lola, by the time the cradle had been corrected, Lola was well into an infertility decline due to rat poison.

Ginger who is young and likely new to the park and it's insidious rat bait does not suffer from the problem as yet so she and Pale Male have been able to reproduce.

These are all hypotheses. But if eventually Pale Male and Ginger begin to have fertility issues, it may be because Ginger's system has reached the poison tipping point. Anecdotal to be sure, but if at all possible all hawks no matter how we think they died, even being hit by a car can be the result of neurological issues due to poison, should be tested for poison upon their deaths.

And as it is late in the season for dumb squirrels, and according to hawk watchers of long standing first food for eyasses on 927 brought by Pale Male is mammal. In this case, it was rat.

We must get the rat bait out of Pale Male and Ginger's territory before these long awaited eyasses are poisoned like those of the Riverside pair.

On that thought here is Pale Male news from ABC as of May 20th,

Donegal Browne
P.S. It's late on a very exciting day. More from contributors and the publishing of comments later yes, but coming soon. Time to tap dance!


cat said...

I'm not sure how you moderate your comments but "dumb squirrels?" really? Can't we appreciate all species not just rare birds and hawks?

Donegal Browne said...

Hi Cat,

Sorry Cat, inside joke. I should have said inexperienced squirrels. Often hawk hatches coincide with juvenile squirrels going out on their own for the first time.

I do appreciate all species honestly as you can tell from the blog. It doesn't only feature hawks and other raptors but also gooey fungus, Crows, lichen, rabbit tracks, Thirteen-lined ground squirrels, wolves, rhubarb blossoms, coyotes, squirrels of all colors, English Sparrows and stealth Rose-breasted Grosbeaks to name a few.

Come one, come all. Much to my families duress at times. It started at four with a tiny emaciated kitten and a grounded Robin then graduated to a litter of orphaned moles. And it has continued exponentially. Not only are all my current cats originally strays, but I have seven unreleasable pigeons who live in my living room.

Now we animals lovers would ask why would this cause my family duress? For one thing, Dot one of the cock pigeons, when let out for exercise, insists on attempting to copulate with my daughter Sam's head. A particular nuisance to her when she's just washed her hair. Dot prefers blondes it turns out.

Also there is Edge, an unflighted pigeon hen, who periodically lays two infertile eggs and broods them. When cleaning her cage, around her so as to disrupt her sitting, she'll get the little bit of skin between two of the cleaner's fingers in her beak and twist. OUCH!

All in a days work for those who put up with me and my living thing fixation.

Anonymous said...

Interesting theory regarding the possibility of the build up of low doces of poison causing Lola to become infertile. It got me thinking. the RS Park single mom is looking better than ever since her mate passed away. The Eyasses born just 4 wks ago look more developed than last year's clutch at that age. Is it possible that Mom and clan are benefiting from the rats being provided by the Parks Dept.? She is hunting but also accepts the food left for her so we know that at least part of her diet is
untainted. Melody Andres

Donegal Browne said...

Hi Melody,

Great thought!

Certainly Riverside Mom and the eyasses are benefiting greatly from the supplemental rats. Everybody is getting all the food they need. It takes the pressure off her time and the energy that she would have to expend hunting alone for everyone. Plus as you say the supplemental rats are poison free were in good health and well fed. I don’t discount at all that most of the rats in NYC carry some poison in their bodies which is detrimental to the health and development of urban hawks.

Humans have been having an inter-species war with Brown Rats (No they didn’t come from Norway.) for centuries and as we have been attempting to exterminate them, evolutionary strategies have developed to win the war on their end.

Rats reproduce at an explosive rate. They become sexually mature at 5 weeks and can breed year round. Gestation is only 21 days and a litter can be up to 14. (And remember in just 5 weeks all of them can start reproducing themselves.)

Rats as a species become immune eventually to every poison we’ve come up with. Because of their high reproduction rate , rats with new combinations of genes are born constantly. Poison is set, many rats die, but those who didn’t die of the poison either by luck or are genetically superior and survive that poison produce young who are more likely to survive the poison as well. The rate of survival for that poison increases with each generation.

How many young do our urban Red-tail pairs produce per year? Zero to three. Because of their extremely low population in the first place at the top of the food chain and their low reproduction rate, Red-tails will never develop genetic immunity to rat poison. The rats on the other hand, eventually can eat poison bait like candy, have bodies full of it, and are not bothered in the least. All it takes is one bad rat per hawk and poof, empty territories.

Plus, and this is my “favorite” survival strategy of rats, when a large fraction of a rat community is exterminated the remaining rats increase their reproductive rate until the colony is quickly back to its previous population.

That is why poison will never ever do the job.

Yes, I said NEVER! And it is true.

The only thing that does work is to cut off the rat food supply. Rats are hierarchical. When the food supply is low , the lower classed rats die first and then on up the social ladder. If they can’t eat, they can’t reproduce.

No species becomes immune to no food.

The whole thing is a no brainer.

Sanitation, sanitation, SANITATION!