Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Call From the Hawk Bench-Pale Male and Octavia

Photo courtesy of  At 4:44 PM Eastern, my phone rang.   It was an excited long time Pale Male watcher Stella Hamilton on the line, standing with two other long  time watchers, Katherine Herzog and Marsha at the Hawkbench.  Pale Male and Octavia were both on the 927 Fifth Avenue nest at the same time!

While later in the season both Pale Male and his mate are often seen together on the nest switching egg incubation duties or Pale will drop by with a tempting dinner for his mate while she sits, it really doesn't happen nearly as often at this point in the season before there are eggs to tend. 

And the hawkwatchers were out in force today, back to their old stomping grounds seeing with their own eyes that Pale Male was indeed not only not missing, he and Octavia were thinking nest!

Every year, Pale Male not only presents the 927 Fifth Avenue nest as an option to his mate, he also presents  a secondary, or other option nest. Some believe that the evergreen bough or boughs on a Red-tail nest are the sign that that particular location has been chosen as THE ONE.  Others think that the evergreen twigs are a Red-tail insecticide. could be both.

 Speaking of second option nests, according to Stella, no one even now has yet discovered where Pale Male's  second option nest is this year...unless it is after all the scant nest downtown on The Plaza.  (Stella is planning to try and sort out the possible Plaza issue come Saturday.)

As to when the new mate of this season Octavia, will overnight on the nest is anyone's guess but it will likely be soon.  Lola tended to overnight a week into March give or take a few days depending on the season.

And today brought another rarity.  Look back up at the top photo.  Pale Male and Octavia have just finished copulating in the tree and they are both perched facing the same direction. 

 Red-tailed Hawks will often sit next to each other companionably after copulation.   But they will face in opposite directions, I assume because a set of opposite eyes in two directions is better to scan the territory for invaders or even personal assailants. 

Not today.  They both are taking the same view.

Another grand thing about the both-face-the-same-way photo is the rare opportunity to compare their relative heights, coloration in this light,  and the shape and size of the heads of a teircel and a formel Red-tailed Hawk.   

There is a difference.  

As wonderful photographer Francois Portmann always says, "The females just look hawkier."

And they do.

Note the size and shape of Octavia's beak in comparion to  Pale Male's. It is longer and more pointed.

Also very telling is the different cranium shape of their heads.
Look at the difference in the angle of their brows.

And for the first time in a while, Pale Male has a mate who isn't the least light eyed according to report.  That means she's likely over 4 years old and has had nesting experience before.

It will be fascinating to see how this new pairing will or will not change some of Pale Male's old habits.

Pale Male loves sitting on eggs.  A characteristic of more experienced and more mature Red-tail dads, I'm told.  Pale has on any number of occasions had to be poked by his mate to get him off the eggs so she could take over again.  

Another supposed habit of mature experienced dads is the feeding of eyasses.   Tristan, mate of Isolde, on the nest at the Cathedral Church of St. John, always brought the prey plus  did the last feeding of the day.  This gave Isolde a break on an adjacent rooftop in the open air as opposed to still more time being squashed behind St. Andrew's elbow with a number of eyasses that got bigger everyday.

Pale Male always brings a bounty of prey to his nest, and as Lola preferred the prey be prepared before arrival, he often did that too.  But when it came to tearing bites off and poking them into little beaks, he doesn't.  Or I should say more correctly that that behavior hasn't been documented in Pale Male  at this point as far as I know.  

Maybe this will be the year?  

 Photo courtesy of
Pale Male finishes Octavia's dinner.  He's also wearing one of his signature concerned but focused expressions.  

At least in this frame Pale Male's belly band appears darker than it has for awhile.  Some years it is hardly discernible at all in some lights.

By the way, one of the ways to solve the what-male-is-downtown conundrum is for two cell phone toting hawkwatchers, one uptown and one downtown, calling each other whenever a mature male is spotted in their particular area.  If both are looking at a mature male in their respective nest areas, particularly if  he is cavorting with Octavia, we are on our way to knowing Octavia may be a bigamist.  If the male or males are never seen at the same time, it could be a fluke, but it does give at least some credence that they are the same bird.


Donegal Browne


Anonymous said...

The only good aspect to visiting my dentist is that he has a prime location for viewing The Hallet Nature sanctuary, corner of 59th and Fifth Avenue from the 14th Floor. Last week while waiting, a mature Red-Tailed Hawk carrying nesting material appeared flying close to the large picture immediate thought was....could that be Pale Male and why is he so far south of his territory? Couldn't give a definite ID as it was raining and the color on the hawk was a bit darker than Pale's.

Then I saw the picture on the internet which has caused so much head-scratching: a bird looking very, very much like Octavia was seen with this "Plaza hawk".

Red-tailed hawks are supposed to be monogamous - but there are other observed hawks, like the Harris Hawk in the SW USA that are
polyandrous (one female copulates with more than one male). Could this be a case of polyandry? Maybe Octavia taking out a little insurance with a younger, stronger male but sticking with the more mature, more experienced mate with a fabulous nest? Was the "Plaza male" possibly Pale?

Yesterday, Pale Male seemed to be bringing prepared food for Octavia and they were flying around the nest the entire hour (4 - 5pm) that I was there...looking ever like the happy couple. Very interesting start to the nesting season.

Katherine Herzog

Donegal Browne said...

Hi Kat,
I'm putting your comment on the main page of the blog with the next post so catch the response there. It is all very fascinating isn't it?