Saturday, January 08, 2011

Do you know these Red-tailed Hawks? Plus Three Juvenile Whooping Cranes Shot to Death in Georgia

Photo by Francois Portmann
A Red-tailed Hawk near the feeders in Central Park on December 31, 2010.

Does anyone feel they can positively identify this bird?

Francois Portmann who sent many wonderful photographs to the blog of Valkyrie of Thompkins Square Park as a juvenile says that she has been in the area of late. He saw her just a few days ago. While her juvenile plumage does not match that of the New Girl that Pale Male has been interacting with, Francois is looking to find a photo with Valkyrie as an adult for comparison to current photographs of New Girl.

Photo courtesy of Operation Migration

The shooting of three juvenile Whooping Cranes in Georgia, found yesterday, brings the population down to 96, after a previous disappearance of three adults elsewhere. Setting the population numbers back to 2008.

There has been a worry that Sandhill Crane hunting seasons, which Georgia doesn't even have yet, though a number of states have requested, might cause accidental shooting of Whoopers. These shootings haven't even that excuse for the deaths. But it does show how fragile the numbers are and how even a minimal mis-shot during a hunt, could demolish multiple years of work costing many hundreds of thousands dollars. Also note that it takes a near expert to identify a Whooping Crane from a Sandhill in the air.

No hunting seasons for cranes should be authorized for many reasons but this one could mean the end of species if they are allowed.

In from Rhode Island's Karen Anne Kolling--

DAR JUVENILES SHOT IN GEORGIA "Georgia Department of Natural Resources reported that necropsy results revealed that the cause of death of the three Whooping Cranes found December 30, 2010 in Calhoun County, Georgia, was gunshot. An investigation is underway. The cranes, according to the landowner of the property where they were found by hunters, had been in the area for a few weeks. The deceased Whooping Cranes were part of a ten year effort of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) to reintroduce the species into the eastern United States..."

. . .MORTALITIES "These mortalities, plus the three adult cranes now missing for more than a year and assumed dead, has dropped the number of Whooping Cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) to 96. The EMP has not been at this level since October of 2008 when the flock numbered 91. This despite the release of 50 juveniles (32 ultralight-led and 18 DAR) between October 2008 and today...

Anyone with information concerning the deaths of these cranes is asked to contact U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Terry Hasting at 404-763-7959 (ext. 233)."

Donna Browne

Friday, January 07, 2011

Are Valkyrie, Previously of Tompkins Square Park , and Pale Male's New Girl the Same Hawk?

Photograph of Valkyrie of Tompkins Square Park, 2009, by Francois Portmann

I just received a very interesting email from Sally of Kentucky suggesting a possibility I'd not thought of previously.

HI Donna.
Just musing, when I saw Lincoln's pic
[on Lincoln Karim's site, , post of January 5, 2011, D.B.] of the possible new consort, I noted how DARK a bird it was for an Eastern race, and its intense eyes reminded me of Valkyrie. I know it is probably not really possible to compare juvenile and adult plumage and markings like the darkness of the patagial crescents but it is an interesting thought...perhaps Valkyrie stayed around, or returned as an adult?


It's possible and stranger things have happened. Particularly as Valkyrie was very human habituated and did very well in an urban setting.

I've emailed Francois Portmann who was a major watcher and main photographer of Valkyrie asking if she was around at all in her adult plumage in 2010, just in case. I have a feeling that would be making things far too easy.

But Sally is correct, Valkyrie and Pale Male's new friend are both extremely dark which isn't all that common in the east.

Did anyone else in NYC, happen to take a photograph of an extremely dark young adult Red-tailed Hawk in NYC after the 2009/2010 molt?

Get in touch.


Wednesday, January 05, 2011


2009, Lola sits on the nest bathed in the golden light of late afternoon on Fifth Avenue.


Why am I reasonably sure that Pale Male doesn't know either? It isn't because he appears to be watching for her, but we'll get to the reason here in a minute. Let's start at the beginning of how I came to that conclusion.

I had an email today from Jane of Marietta, Georgia. It reads in part...

Just like many others, I’m sure, I’ve been concerned reading about Lola’s non-appearance in recent weeks. Is there any history or any information about this kind of disappearance in previous mates coming to a positive end?

Your blog reports there is still no sign of her, but that article about the young male in the AC shaft gives me a smidgen of hope for Lola (although she is older and wiser, so it’s just a smidgen of hope!)

Thank you for your updates on her – there are many of us out here who follow these wonderful animals!


Hi Jane,

I'm told that Lola is the first mate of Pale Male's that hasn't always taken a winter vacation. And the first few years she was mated to Pale Male it appeared she took one as well. Then a couple of years back she started staying with him through the winter.

That said, I am extremely worried because of the timing of Lola's disappearance. I would have thought if she'd just gone off to hunt a few voles or rabbits for a couple of weeks, as those aren't available in Central Park, she would have returned well before now.

The first observed copulations of Pale Male and Lola have ordinarily been the last week of January or the first week of February with courting occurring in the weeks of January before the observed copulations. We are in that window.

And beyond the timing, Pale Male does appear to be watching for her according to report. If he knew she was injured, we previously might well have seen a period of time where he was protecting her if she were grounded, bringing her food, or observed him actively looking for her which would appear more agitated than what he is doing now. That is if past experience of what the formels, Isolde, the Houston Female, and Rose did, can be transferred to a tiercel's expected behavior.

Without observations to the contrary, my assumption is, that the behavior would be similar. But, as I say, I don't know for sure.

Pale Male has had mates die before. Therefore he might be able to draw on previous experience and realize if he saw Lola's body that she was gone or wasn't going to be his mate anymore and he would stop watching for her return. We have no way of knowing the intricacies of his mind. But we do know that as the days pass without Lola's return, suddenly one day soon, another mate will appear at pale Male's side as if she'd always been there.

If you've read Marie Winn's marvelous book, Red-tails in Love, you may remember that in 1992 Pale Male and his mate First Love were mobbed by Crows, both hawks were injured and had to go to rehab. Pale Male was released within days, while First Love remained at the Raptor Trust from May until November 1992, when she was banded and released in New Jersey.

In the meantime Pale Male took a new mate in November of 1992, Chocolate. At some point in the later part of 1996, Chocolate was killed, her exact death date is unknown but her band was retrieved and in 1996 suddenly a banded female appeared on Pale Male's metaphorical arm. Eventually the band was read and guess what? First Love was back as Pale Male's mate once again.

The following year, October 12, 1997, First Love was found dead after eating a poisoned pigeon on the MET.

On October 15, 1997, only three days later, Pale Male was seen soaring with a different female Red-Tailed Hawk, whom he bonded with and was eventually named Blue.

Note that there are only three days between when First Love was found dead and Pale Male had a new mate. This is one of the reasons that I think he may have recognized First Love's body, knew she was dead, and knew he needed to accept a new mate.

Pale Male has been running other adult Red-tails out of the territory when he sees them. That tells me that likely he doesn't know what is going on with Lola and is waiting as long as he can for her to reappear before re-mating. Though if she doesn't reappear very very soon, he will start bonding with another hawk any day now.

What else can we learn from this chronology?

You asked for a smidgen of hope and here it is. Keep in mind that Lola is not banded. She could have been injured outside of NYC, rescued, and is now residing with an out of town wildlife rehabilitator who has no idea that the Red-tail who is being treated is Pale Male's famous mate, Lola. Therefore if she does not return, and her body is not found in the Park where someone might recognize her, even though Pale Male may turn up with a new mate tomorrow, it is possible that Lola could still be alive. And upon her release, she might wait in the wings for her chance to step back in as Pale Male's mate or she may decide that she too will choose a new mate and start raising young hawks in a nest without a cold updraft.

Best regards,


John Blakeman and long time reader Mai have been continuing their email conversation regarding Lola. Today's question is in regards to the strength of Red-tailed Hawk pair bonds-

Hi John --

As I viewed w/ great sadness Lincoln's pix of PM w/ food presumably waiting/looking for Lola on one of their regular perches -- I thought that there has certainly been a strong bond between them, which has caused me to wonder how quickly or easily that bond can or will be broken, if Lola doesn't reappear in time for this breeding season --

Will PM just wait and wait for Lola? How long before he takes another mate if Lola doesn't show up, assuming another female RT does? Is the instinct to reproduce stronger than the previous bonding?

I know you said that a new bonding could happen very quickly, but I've just been wondering about the strength of the previous bond, w/ Lola, how long such a bond generally lasts. And does it vary from RT to RT?

Hope this isn't too redundant -- Any thoughts or insights you can share would be greatly appreciated!

And the response from John Blakeman--


I, too, have been watching Lola's absence, and yes, I have a measure of concern.

There are only two possibilities. The more favorable one would be that the bird decided to head South for the winter, as many Red-tails do.

The other is that she's dead, from poison in food, or some injury.

The greater probability is the latter. The bird spent the last two or three winters in Central Park, and did well. She's experienced and has no hunger motivations to leave for warmer climes for the winter. But it's still not impossible. She might have lofted high up on a warm thermal (but there haven't been any of these since November) and loosely joined some other Red-tails migrating down from Quebec, upstate New York, or New England. There's a small chance that she's somewhere in the South, asking the question, "Didn't I come down here for some moderate winter weather? Last time I'm doing this, as this is as cold and snowy as NYC." If she's in the South, she picked a bad year to fly there.

But if she did, she'll be seen in February or March, or even in late January.

But I think the far greater possibility is that she's somehow met her demise; again, either by poisoning from a tainted rat, or some wing injury after bouncing off a wire. Red-tails occasionally electrocute themselves by touching opposite wings against hot electrical wires when landing or taking off from utility poles.

If such is the case, if Lola is no more, a new formel (female) will show up when the days start to discernibly lengthen, even as early as mid-January. There is a giant population of "floaters," young, un-mated adults eager to step into an established territory such as Pale Male's.

The resulting pair-bonding, between Pale Male and new mate, can happen in hours, if not just in a day or two. With that, a new mate might appear in January, and except for a different feather pattern, could appear to be Lola once again.


John A. Blakeman

LOLA UPDATE--JUST IN!!!!--Hawkwatcher Emma Cale plus Lincoln Karim of, report that Pale Male is tolerating and even interacting with an adult Red-tailed Hawk in his territory. Emma also says that the new hawk, though she appears to have a red tail, also has lighter eyes than a hawk of four years would have. It sounds like the visitor is likely young- perhaps only three years old.

I was awakened yesterday morning at dawn by an incredible cacophony of Crow caws, right outside the house. As they sounded like they meant business, I carefully peered out from behind a window curtain, just in time to see a Cooper's Hawk heading quickly west with a murder of Crows accelerating her departure from the rear. Within minutes the feeding area was full of sparrows, juncos, finches, chickadees, and even the Downy Woodpecker. Though crows can predate the nests of smaller birds, they can come in awfully handy when those birds want to frequent the feeders on a very cold winter's morning and a stealth raptor is hanging out in the bushes.

No, I haven't forgotten the Mystery Hawk or the china manhandling possum they'll show up soon when we haven't got late breaking Pale Male news.

Donegal Browne

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

NYC Juvenile RTH Caught in an Air Shaft Since Before the Blizzard and What Made Thousands of Birds Fall to the Ground When in Flight?

Photo courtesy of CNN

Above is the back story from CNN from Robin of Illinois.
Below the New York Times article in from Bill Walters of NYC.

U.S. | January 04, 2011
4,000 Dead Birds Drop From the Sky
Scientists are trying to determine why, on New Year's Eve, red-winged blackbirds rained on Beebe, Ark.

If you haven't been following the story do check them out for the sake of discussion.

As of yesterday, authorities said they thought that as the birds appeared to have trauma to the breast, internal bleeding and blood clots that the Redwings had been flushed from a large roost by the fireworks and as the fireworks were above them they flew too low and ran into houses, trees, and the like in the dark.

Normally when a bird hits a building it breaks it's neck and drops to the ground dead or it bounces off and if alive is grounded but I thought perhaps some might have been so full of adrenaline that they were able to take off again but died in flight. Hmmm.

The reports speak of breast hemorrhaging and blood clots but were they checked for broken necks? A broken neck comes from impact. Hemorrhage might have other causes besides an impact.

BUT, look at the above photograph. They are lying in a roadway many have dropped there where there are no obstacles to speakd of . What is going on?

Then today, once again the news delving Robin of Illinois, sent in a report of another episode of 500 Red-winged Blackbirds (and Starlings) in Louisiana, who appear to have met their demise in the same manner a the Beebe birds, whatever that is--

Robin says,

Okay, back to the drawing boards. If the Beebe birds were shocked into flying into solid objects, causing death, what is the reason this time?

As one commenter wrote: If it starts raining frogs, I'm getting the hell outta here.

Here's the link for the Louisiana story--

Also a video link from Robin-



Here is a rescue update from wildlife rehabilitator Bobby Horvath explaining what happened after a concerned resident contacted NYC Audubon and thereby The NYC Raptor Group, about a hawk who had been trapped in a small airshaft for over a week--

Ok here's the longer version for anyone interested .

After hearing the particulars from the apartment owner I thought maybe this was possible with the use of my 18 foot long nets by 2 rescuers . I stand 6 ' so including the net I can reach about 25' off the ground or if I lean over the roof I can reach down about 22' down. Once I climbed thru this little 3' by 2' hatchway in the basement to get into the air shaft I hear James , who's already there telling me from the shadows-- this doesn't look good. The bird was on a window sill on the 4th floor , exactly where we have no access from either below or above so we thought of a new plan.

The bird could fly from the front of the building to the rear locked in this shaft but couldn't get enough height to get out. Just as I got to the apartment the caller tells me its right on the sill behind a locked window. It spooked as soon as I walked into the room..

There was a smaller pane next to the closed one that could open but I couldn't fit any net thru it so we opened it anyway and waited for James to disturb the hawk enough till it flew back to the sill . I hid blindly to the side of this opening and waited on James' directions when to lunge at the window and it worked.

I'm sure he didn't have many more days left in him with no food or water and would have eventually ended up grounded and possibly too late to save.

I'm pretty sure its a boy and as Cathy [Bobby' wife and fellow rehabilitator. D.B.] will tell you that's the sex we seem to get in the most this time of year. Of the 8 redtails we've gotten in the past month, 6 were juvenile males. She strongly believes that all "silly" males ,animal and human alike, get into trouble without their mom, and the young females do much better on their own early on. She may have a point. I cannot win this argument and I cannot vouch for other rehabbers numbers either. In any event we'll do our best and hopefully this one can go back but it probably won't be released until it molts because of the damaged primaries, due to confined space.

Jame's observation [of a second juvenile in the area D.B.] means there most likely is a nest nearby but it would be a tough one to find unless somebody points it out.

There was a kestrel nearby and there is a nest as well about 2 buildings away that a fledgling was rescued from this summer. Though it seems unlikely, its a good spot for raptors proving city birds are quite adaptable.

They said the park is close by but is it big enough space wise and prey wise to support all these birds? I would think they are hunting elsewhere as well . It all went very smoothly and I am very happy how things worked out today. I just wanted to share the whole story with you once I had time.

Of the 2 recent redtails rescued from the Wall Street area the confirmed poisoned one is beginning to make improvement but months away from knowing its outcome but the more recent one is outside today in the flight cage and might be able to go back soon. I don't know of a release site there unless there is a park close by as I think getting 2 from the same spot they must be resident youngsters but it doesn't mean they must go back to the same spot if it isn't in their best interest .

The other issue is releasing birds in the winter is not always recommended and we do regularly over winter certain birds but they need to be cage space willing. The last batch of birds we did release were all in perfect shape, getting really antsy, and were picked to go as the best decision before they injured themselves or caused major feather damage.




Donegal Browne

PLUS COMING SOON-Singer Brian Dougherty (he's an amazing tenor), has a NYC mystery raptor sighting, and a double opossum night during a snow storm in Wisconsin...just LOOK at those tracks. Oh dear, I do hope he isn't going to break the serving bowl from my mother's 2nd best china. Oops.