Friday, June 29, 2012

Johnson Pale Male Updates, Franklin Institute Near Miss Landings, and Squirrel Freeze Mode

 Photograph courtesy of Scott Kemper
And a head's up from grand gleaner of Wildlife News, Robin of Illinois, scroll down the blog, link below, for some delightful pictures of near miss landings at the Franklin Institute--

 Photo by Jeff Johnson
 Pale Male and Zena's fledge and its late day meal. You can see a Blue Jay above her scolding and possibly about to make a fly-by strike at her head which is taking some of her attention.
 Photo by Jeff Johnson
And Mr. Jay is not about to leave anytime soon. The juvenile has been presented with unprepared pigeon she's having to figure out how to deal with besides.  Life is just one thing after another for a young Red-tailed Hawk.
  Photo by Jeff Johnson, plus following commentary
 Late this afternoon I saw Pale Male hunting along 5th Avenue and 79th just as I walked into the Model Sailboat Pond near the Hawkbench, so I decided to proceed north thinking to catch some frames of his activity. Pale Male had gone to perch on his favorite antenna so I returned to the Sailboat Pond where I encountered a fledge in one of the trees beside the Kerbs Cafe area (north). I'm calling it Fledge 1 because it's the first I spotted today. Look at how full the crop is…I never saw any parental interaction today or meals left, but clearly such is happening.
 Photo and commentary by Jeff Johnson
 Pale Male began a little more soaring over 79th Street and Zena had magically appeared on her 927 Nest watching Pale Male's efforts (she was peering in his direction anyway).  Scanning from Zena to look at Pale Male I happened upon Fledge 2 in a tree just to the right and back  of Fledge 1.
 Photo and commentary by Jeff Johnson
 Now I have a distant view of both parents and two fledges within 100 feet of each other. They seem to really like this stand of trees. Moving in behind the tree where Fledge 2 is I try for a frame with them both in it just to present some scale and proof of identity. As I move around to do this naturally Fledge 2 moves along into another branch forcing me to move deeper into the brush near the wall along 5th Avenue. It's a poor frame but if you look at the upper right and lower left corners, Fledge 2 and 1 are in the same frame.
  Photo and commentary by Jeff Johnson

 Just as I began thinking about differing angles something plopped on the sleeve of my jacket !!! Fledge 3 was saying Hello from directly above me.
  Photo and commentary by Jeff Johnson

All three fledges were in the same copse of trees !!!  Three Red Tails within 100 feet and being paid next to no attention by Blue Jays or any other birds.
Fledge 3 moved to a lower branch on a tree alongside the wall at 5th Avenue and I wasn't able to get a frame with the trio together. Fledge 3's Hello was about the size of a Silver Dollar and looked like pancake mix. A tissue wiped most of it away on scene. Just for interest I included a frame I shot after I got home. I prefer to think of it as a greeting, since I might not have seen him/her otherwise…but maybe the fledge didn't like my jacket or decided it needed to be sent to the dry cleaners!
Jeff has fallen prey to one the good news/bad news aspects of juvenile Red-tail Hawk hunting.  You've been alerted to a Red-tails presence but you've a green and white splotch on your clothes. Often much larger than the spot above, by the way.  
Machine wash hawking apparel recommended as it frees up more funds for subway fare and equipment. :)
  Photo and commentary by Jeff Johnson

 I included a frame of a squirrel lying flat along a narrow branch with its tail curled over itself. It didn't appear unhealthy, in fact it was a plump specimen. It made no attempt to do anything except move its eyes ti watch everything I was doing. What behavior is this ?

This squirrel is absolutely fine.  She has just taken the stance of a squirrel who has discovered she is in too close a proximity to multiple hawks.

Squirrels are quite cheeky and will scold or even take on a juvenile hawk or even  an adult for cause. 

 Yes, squirrels can tell the difference between an adult and a juvenile as can the Blue Jays, Catbirds, Robins and all other birds who enjoy mobbing raptors.

When dealing with a single hawk all the squirrel has to do is scurry from the top of a branch to the bottom or round the trunk of a tree to the other side to elude the hawk.  Experienced squirrels know to stick to the trees and not try a scamper across the ground where they'll be an easy dinner for an experienced raptor.

The squirrel in question has realized that she has been caught  in an area where multiple hawks might cooperate to nab her.  Scampering to the other side of a tree trunk doesn't work very well if there is a second hawk on the other side.

(Whatever the Red-tailed literature may say, Red-tails do hunt in tandem on occasion and the squirrels know it.)

Therefore she has gone into squirrel freeze mode.  She has flattened herself on the branch and laid her tail over her back, which changes her silhouette.  Lack of movement of course reduces the likelihood of pulling the hawk's focus to herself.  I've not decided whether the squirrel has just found itself on an exposed branch in these cases or whether it is a choice to give her a 360 degree range of vision.

It is also possible that the laid tail above the body, beyond camouflage  might have a tendency to fool a hawk into closing her talons early in a strike, causing her to grasp more tail than more important squirrel parts.

Always helpful Ohio raptor expert John Blakeman filled me in on a terrific fact about squirrels which helps explain why though Red-tails find them very tasty, they don't eat more of them.  

The factoid?  A squirrel's hide is extremely tough and a Red-tail must strike them just right in order to bag them. 

An inefficient strike can lead to a miss which wastes energy or worse from the hawk's point of view may result in a nasty squirrel bite which is an uncomfortable injury with the possibility of infection.

Plus a squirrel is quite strong and agile particularly for lighter weight males who need to have even nearer to perfect technique to be successful.   Pale Male being the not only the Monarch of Central Park but the Sultan of Stealth is a terrific squirrel hunter and has courted many a female with meaty squirrel meals.

And yes, while in this behavior only the squirrel's eyes will move to follow the action, which in this case included you.

Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne

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