Monday, July 02, 2012

Staturday Report for the Fledglings of Pale Male and Zena in Central Park

 Photos by Jeff Johnson

 Fifth Avenue Fledgling Watcher Jeff Johnson was back on the track yet again on Saturday.  
Photographs plus the commentary in italics are his.  Unitalized
thoughts are mine. 

At noon on Saturday I decided to start at 82nd Street by the MET and make a shallow foray into the museum grounds thinking that Pale Male or Zena would be hunting. No joy spotting either of them soaring, hunting, or even perched anywhere. Though it's only been a week that their eyasses have fledged, I wonder if the parents are already doing less "give away" support. Today all three fledges demonstrated good flying skills and were more active than I've seen previously. It wasn't until I walked all the way down to the knoll above the Sailboat Pond that I spotted a Red-Tail. In the upper left corner of the frame is my  Fledge 1 sighting.
In this next frame he/she appears to be in great health. I sought to use the fledges head movements to find Pale Male or Zena. Goes without saying that their eyeshight, height, and ability to triangulate is superior to mine, but they never aided me today. Only when they began serious begging did they help me spot Pale Male. I never did see Zena.
 Fledge 2 was spotted hanging out in the favored tree behind the Kerbs Cafe.

 I'd moved in to about thirty feet observing this beautiful fledge when a whoosh of flapping wings announced another fledge streaking by. It moved too fast for me to provide any good frames, so I combined several of them to make them more interesting. Fledge streaks by…briefly alights on 5th Ave wall…zooms down to leaking hydrant by the cafe (doesn't drink…saunters out a few yards to ogle the bystanders..then uses a ground effect running leap into some brush to attack a selection of twigs.

 Seeming very pleased with itself the fledge launched with a screech into the treeline near Alice In Wonderland.

In a near midair with a Red-tail fast mover vectoring in from the SE quadrant it awkwardly planted itself on a limb alongside the Red-tail it bushed wings with. At first I thought it had bumped into Pale Male delivering a meal, but it was another fledge and the two began a little squabble. Both are in the upper left corner of this frame (one in dim sunlight and the other in shadow).

After continuing to bicker a minute or so one stayed venting its wings to the heat while the other flew off to the NNE.

 You can see it in the upper left corner of this frame. Flew just beyond the next hillock.

 [She] calmly appeared to be observing the human circus below.

Now the fledge that had stayed behind elected to leapfrog its sibling into the trees across the walkway.
 Moving below it  I took this frame and it appears to have a little food in it's crop, though I never saw a meal delivery all day.
 Twenty minutes later (It's late afternoon now) there was a raucous bit of vocalizing and two fledges swooped into "their" tree behind the Kerbs Cafe. Again I expected a meal delivery from Pale Male or Zena, so I positioned myself on some high ground to better observe incoming traffic. Again I didn't see anything of a food drop.
 Walking back toward the Sailboat Pond I caught the silhouette of the fledge who wasn't down by the Cafe.
 This fledge wasn't begging at this  time and seemed intent on hiding. Maybe it was tired of small bird hassling.

We couldn't blame her if she were hiding from the mob, but she may also be practicing her stealth mode.  Not only do young Red-tails have obvious urges to "kill" inanimate objects they also seem to have an urge towards stealth behavior, another necessary skill for making a hawk living.

 Getting close to the north end of the Model Sailboat Pond and three was a fledge being decidedly less withdrawn. In the upper left corner you can see the fledge fully aware of the attention it's getting. 

Jeff,  I agree that the fledgling is aware that there are eyes on her but she is likely quite unconcerned or really all that interested in the attention itself.  If I were to guess, I'd suggest that she is watching  the humans as part of her landscape, an active part, she's watching the behavior of humans to later have a handle on human behavior, much in the way her parents appear to visually record prey patterns for later use. 

Here is a closer frame of the fledge...

It's really great to have these Red-tails among us. It's been pointed out to me by knowledgable Hawkwatchers that just because I didn't see a lot of Pale Male or Zena doesn't mean they are unconcerned or inattentive. They are just staying less visible as they continue to nurture the education and life skills of their fledglings. 
Absolutely true. 
 I believe that Red-tailed Hawk parents are wired for stealth when it comes to tending their fledglings.  The behavior would be a safe guard against possible predators.
Though as with most of a Red-tailed hawks urges towards certain behavior, they can be modified by experience.  That's my opinion at any rate.
We've seen that Pale Male especially,  and even some of his mates, usually to a lesser degree,  recognize hawkwatchers of long standing, those who have proven their "good behavior", i.e. by not bothering him and not doing anything suspect around or to the fledglings, and will regularly appear with complete unconcern while going about his business in front of those he knows, even while tending his progeny.
In fact one of the hallmarks of adult hawks that we tend to think came from Pale Male's nest, beyond their paler coloring is their nonchalance in tending their fledglings in public. 

Pale Male Jr. did it.  Tristan (Pale Male III) did it--as did Riverside Mom.  Some urban hawk parents are far more reticent about exposing their fledglings location.
You ask, why should the parents bother with stealth when the fledglings are often begging their  brains out, loudly and continuously when a parent presents him or herself?

Though the parents many feel because of their upbringing exposed to few humans that stealth feels right,   these eyasses  have grown up surrounded with people.  They have begged and been fed under the gaze of many human eyes as their parents have no other choice in many urban nests but to expose the location.  (The parents having watched humans and taken the chance of an urban site, likely decide when the site is chosen, that humans are very unlikely to appear at the nest site.  And if humans do later appear near the nest site, the parents are ready to make things so hot for the humans they'll retreat.)

Rural eyasses are very rarely fed when the eyes of humans are on their nest.  The parents wait until the humans leave and then fly to the nest and feed the young.  The eyasses learn that begging with a human staring at them before the parent arrives will  likely get them nowhere so they learn not to do it, which is what their parents have in mind. 
(A caveat here, if the parent is already on the nest and in the middle of a feeding they will often continue feeding. Note while being fed on the nest vocalized begging by young is at a minimum.  I hypothesize the actual "taboo" behavior for parents is flying to the nest under human eyes.  Though once you are recognized as  are a normal safe part of the landscape they will do it.)
 When to beg is a learned behavior.
When I observed the nest of the County Road M Hawks in Wisconsin, I heard begging only twice.  It was very strange after listening to city eyasses and fledglings beg to the high heavens at the slightest sight of their parents.
The  first time was when I'd pulled to the verge of the road from where I observed them with the window open and one eyass didn't see me right away.  
The second instance was when a fledgling, who really liked the parental prey delivery service and saw little reason to hunt for himself,  was being weaned.  His parents had decided enough was enough and he was going to have to do some hunting on his own.

Stubborn Fledgling  had decided he didn't want to hunt and he'd beg until he turned blue, loudly, vociferously, and in front of a regiment of strangers if necessary to get his way.  Which he did in front of me though periodically glaring at me as if  to say "Would you just go away".  As he likely thought if I did, or at least still strongly hoped,   somebody would have had enough of the racket and would arrive with lunch.

I'm sure he was profoundly disappointed when I finally did leave and no take-out arrived.

As I saw both fledglings weeks later hunting on their own, Stubborn Fledgling did eventually bite the bullet when he got hungry enough and learned to do it himself.
City Hawks and Country Hawks adjust quite smartly to their respective environments.

Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne


Anonymous said...

Here’s to Jeff Johnson--
His contributions -- photos and narrative - are wonderful. Here's a high five to the man! (and you)


Donegal Browne said...

Hear hear!!