Friday, March 04, 2011

Pale Male with a Mouse, Doorstep Dove and Friend, Plus the First Robin

Photo courtesy of
Pale Male with a tasty mouse in his beak, flies in front of his new mate, showing off the treat. He gives it to her...

Photo courtesy of
She flies over to the Carlyle, eats it, and gets into position to copulate and Pale Male as always obliges.

Why does Pale Male often bring gifts of food to his mate before copulation? Well, hungry or not, it will be cached if she isn't, she often at this stage of the game, becomes quite amiable to his attentions after a gift of food.

Could it be the same reason a male human who is courting a female human takes her out to dinner and gives her gifts?

The prevailing wisdom amongst scientists concerning why tiercels do it, is that the male is proving that he is a mighty hunter and will be a good provider for the formel and her young.

Are there buttons pushed in female humans as well by gifts?

Doorstep Dove and Friend in one of their favorite spots in the Maple tree. I'd seen Doorstep in the feeding area earlier. She is still limping but not as much as before. Plus I'd put out the remnants of Quicksilver's Nutri-berries just before she appeared, and she was eating amazingly fast even with her limp. She loves those Nutri-berry bits. Her back feathers are still ruffed up. I think she lost some of them and she ruffles them to insulate that spot better. Her tail is growing back in as are the primaries that she lost. Also notice that she looks more bright eyed and alert than she did
the last time we had a good look at her.
And as always Friend, her mate
of many years, is in attendance.

The FIRST Robin makes his appearance! Spring must be around here somewhere!

Donegal Browne

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Jane of Georgia's Screech Owls and Urban Raptor Explosion in New Orleans

This is red-phase Screech Owl Oscar having a bit of a nap with his head sticking out of the nesting box. As this is a house made out of sawn wood, as opposed to a cavity that might just have some irregularities to place his feet, just what is holding Oscar up?

Obviously Oscar's feet aren't touching the floor. Take into account there might be some nesting materials in the bottom of the box, then eggs, and then Olivia his mate. Could he be standing on Olivia's head or has he got his talons hooked in the flat wood side of the box?

Oscar has flown out for the night and this is Olivia poking her head out just a little. Note her "ears" aren't even showing and somehow she looks more disheveled than Oscar, and maybe a little, well, grumpy.

From Jane of Georgia--

Here's my first attempt at a picture of Olivia. We just had a bad
thunderstorm here, complete with tornado warnings. As the skies darkened, I saw Oscar fly out a smidgen earlier than has been his norm and this little face appear at the owl box door. A very poor picture with very poor lighting, but you can see her very light cheeks. Through the binoculars, and in the pictures on my screen here, she looks a lot redder than I initially thought she was.

But later--

I dragged a 6’ ladder down to the yard area closer to the owl house, just so they could get used to seeing it around. Oscar seems very comfortable with me being close by and sunned himself in my obvious presence for a long while. As dusk settled in, he dropped down into the box and Olivia peered out, saw me and dropped immediately out of sight. Seeing her a bit more close up, even for just a few seconds, reveals she is indeed much grayer in color than her man, with a very round scruffy face that reminded me right away of the Muppet, Animal, albeit not as red and without the raucous open mouth!

(The description of Olivia, makes me think of the always seemingly rumpled female Screech Owl in Central Park who we called, Unmade Bed.)

And from an earlier email---

Olivia is very very shy, so I have decided to keep my distance and observe the two owls only from my deck for a while. Again this evening, Oscar flew away right around 645pm, and Olivia immediately appeared at the doorway. She appears somehow smaller than Oscar, probably because I’m only allowed to see her head. So far, she hasn’t jumped up to the lip of the box’s door, so I can’t get a real handle on her relative size.

Actually Jane, you're right Olivia only appears smaller as you haven't ever seen all of her. In fact all raptors have what is called reverse sexual dimorphism. The females are to a greater or smaller degree, larger than the males. Olivia appears smaller because we aren't even seeing her whole head as she doesn't poke her head out all the way in your presence. So far all you have really seen is her face. We've not even gotten to see her "ears" yet.

Often in owls the female is a third larger than the male. Though in raptor pairs if you have a largish male for the species and a smallish female for that species, the size can look quite close.

Why are females larger than males in raptors? There lies one of the long standing questions in avian biology and the hypotheses have been studied and heatedly argued repeatedly. The hypotheses tend to come in three categories- ecological hypotheses, sex-role differentiation hypotheses, and behavioral hypotheses. So far no one has nailed it down to everyone's satisfaction.

But as everyone knows who has read the blog for any amount of time, we will eventually get to it as it is one of my favorite topics and I have a pet theory, which I think we saw a bit of an example of during Pale Male's latest courtship of first one female and then a second. But that's for later...

Can you see the nest box? The tree with the nest box is slightly right of center. Now? Okay see the first tree on the right side of the frame? It has a branch that goes to the left across about three quarters of the photograph. Follow that branch, and when you come to the first batch of deciduous leaves, look carefully and you will see the house.

More to come from Jane about the habitat in Oscar and Olivia's territory.

Next up-- why would Hurricane Katrina cause an explosion of urban hawks to New Orleans? From Sally of Kentucky--
Once endangered, the hawk makes an amazing comeback
FOX 8 News WVUE-TV City dwellers have been seeing a variety of urban raptors lately in places where they were not seen before. Since Hurricane Katrina, it seems as if hawks are more of a fixture in the New Orleans area than ever, especially downtown. ...

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Krider's Hawks, John Blakeman on Urban Nest Materials, Where Did the Expression Dickey-Bird Come From, and the Franklin Institute Hawks...

Well, good readers, Blogger has done it again. It has decided not to load anymore photos and as Jane of Georgia has sent photos of the owls and their habitat and a descriptive email, I think I'll wait for the top half until blogger feels better.


Remember I said I’d ask Red-tail expert John Blakeman about the songbird mobbing of brief duration outside your owl house just in case he’d run across the behavior before? He does have a broad and varied experience with birds so one never knows, Find his response which made me giggle below—


I can't offer any perspectives on this mobbing behavior at an owl's residence. I just simply have no experience with nesting screech owls, other than having put my gloved hands into a bunch of screech owl boxes, pulling out winter-roosting screeches for banding.

The behavior of the dickey-birds is beyond my understanding.

--John Blakeman

It was the use of dickey-birds as being something beyond understanding that got me. Exactly where the expression dickey-bird comes from, I've yet to figure out. Though I’ve been waiting for the answer to manifest itself for years.

My first experience with the use of “dickey-bird” occurred decades ago when I was being teased, in a good natured way, about how anyone could possibly be interested in such an insignificant topic as songbirds and to add insult to injury, interested in their insignificant behavior besides. by Dr. Gross, who’s PhD had lead him to be an expert when it came to vernal ponds, and the insect life that such ponds nurture. Some might say he was interested in dickey-bugs, hence the humor.

The second usage of dickey-birds occurred when I was wearing my other hat and playing Mrs. Ogmore-Prichard, a character who spends her time berating her two dead husbands, in Welshman Dylan Thomas’ play, Under Milkwood. The reference was to a picture on the wall that featured dickey-birds. I delved but it was another dead end. References but no real definition.

Then several years ago, John Blakeman used it. Wow! But it turns out we both knew what it meant but had no idea where it had come from. An inside biology joke?

The earliest reference I’ve found was to a Mother Goose Song published in 1765. Why dickey-bird (or Dickie-bird)?

So after all of that, does anyone out there happen to know why a small and possibly “insignificant” bird is a dickey-bird? Happen to have an Oxford handy?

Screen capture courtesy of

The Franklin Institute Nest now has two cams, one above the nest and one on the shelf.

As to what is going into the bowl of this urban nest, paper, plastic and other urban detritus, here are hawk expert John Blakeman's thoughts--

Well, to us, it's street trash. Not to the hawks. It's all soft and easily carried to the nest, where it will be re-worked and tucked into the bottom of the nest to help seal the bowl.

Actually, here in Ohio in the more normal rural nests we seldom see this. Out here, the birds are picking up corn leaves and some tree leaves from the ground, which serve the same function. These larger, more bulking lining materials are brought to the nest in January and February. In March (generally) more fine-grained lining materials will be brought in.

Linings vary from pair to pair and geographically. The birds use whatever is available and works. Strays sheets of The Inquirer, paper bags, and even some wafting plastic bags are likely to turn up at the Institute nest in these months. It will be interesting to see what will be used as the more final, softer lining materials in March. Fist-fulls of grass are often brought in.

Don't be surprised if some of these larger lining materials just disappear. The birds will carry them off or dump them over the edge if they don't seem to work well into the nest bottom.

Now, the birds are getting near the end of big-sticks stage. They have a profound urge to bring things to the nest. Not all that they bring in really works, so a few things are hauled off or allowed to tumble away."

-- John Blakeman

Next up, Robin of Illinois, with her comment and a link--

"The news of Pale Male's death is greatly exaggerated."

(Pale Male is, of course, NOT dead. But some interesting research about Krider's Hawks the very pale subset of the Red-tailed Hawk family in the piece. By the way, so there is no confusion, though pale, neither Pale Male nor Pale Beauty is a Krider's Hawk

Monday, February 28, 2011

Pale Male and Pale Beauty Plus Oscar and Olivia Screech Owl

This is Oscar sunning himself according to Jane of Georgia, who's owl house Oscar and Olivia Screech seem have taken to for the season.

(Okay I cannot help myself. I totally have a thing for Screech Owls particularly the red ones. I mean, could Oscar actually get any cuter?)

We'll hear more about the Screech Owl O's as soon as you get The Pales update for the day, just below.

Photo courtesy of

The two Pales sit atop a light fixture on the Carlyle Building and look at each other. If you look closely Pale Beauty is looking at Pale Male as if he were good enough to eat. Metaphorically of course, I hope.

Reports have come in that the Red-tailed Hawk pair are copulating up and down Fifth Avenue these days so things are going exactly as they should at this time of year.

And great news from Jane of Georgia, she of the Screech Owl house--

Hi Donegal –

I took about 30 minutes tonight to watch for activity around my owl box. Sure as shootin’ and just like clockwork, the rufous owl, Oscar, flew out to round up dinner right around 6:30pm and a little gray face, henceforth to be known as Olivia, appeared at the entrance to get some fresh air. I love it!

Oscar had been sunning himself since about 4pm this afternoon, taking time to intently observe all the squirrel activity around him (I’m swimming in squirrels here!). Just before he left the box, a male cardinal was making what sounded like alarm calls for about 5 minutes – from a branch only about 20 feet from the owl box. I have also watched as a bunch of titmice and chickadees have flown to the owl box doorway several times during the day – making loud calls all the while. The rackets lasts just a few minutes and then it all quiets down. Is this songbird activity the “mobbing” I’m reading about?

What fun! I’m so excited! Can you tell I’m a newbie at all this?


Hooray you have a pair!!!! And whether you are a newbie or not, we're green with envy and intend to enjoy them vicariously as much as you do.

I'm assuming that what you are describing is mobbing. A group of birds that raises a racket and may even dive at a raptor at times if it is exposed.

Interesting that the racket stops within a few minutes. Perhaps late in the day it is of limited duration because of the short overlap when an owl and diurnal birds are awake at the same time is limited perhaps?

But what about earlier in the day with the Chickadees and Titmouse? Let's see if we can come up with a hypothesis to try and nail down why. When the Titmouses were mobbing in the daytime was the owl visible and they stopped when he disappeared back into the house?

In the meantime, I've sent an email to John Blakeman for his take on the matter.

I've missed being able to follow the Screech Owls that nested in Central Park. And now that we have a pair of possibly less human habituated Screech Owls and a different habitat it could be downright fascinating to see what the differences in behavior toward humans are and also what they eat. The first stage would be trying to see what Oscar brings home for Olivia to eat while she sits the nest. Likely not all that easy as these guys are fast but you never know what you may see if you watch.

By the way, what kind of habitat is near by for the owls to forage in?

Donegal Browne