Saturday, March 02, 2013

Is Octavia Practicing Polyandry? This Weekend is the Time to Find Out!

 Octavia, left and Pale Male, full face, right 
 courtesy of

 Relevant musings concerning just who is copulating with whom in Central Park, just in from long time NYC hawkwatcher Katherine Herzog, who, by the way, has a very conveniently  located dentist for a hawkwatcher--

 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

Great to hear from you Kat, thank you for your astute musings-and yes it is an interesting start to the Fifth Avenue season.

Could this be a case of polyandry?  

Of course it could as you knowJust because it isn't in the Red-tail literature doesn't mean it doesn't happen.  We've observed many examples of Red-tail behavior that hadn't been recorded in print until the hawkwatchers of Central Park observed it.

I remember when I first began watching there was no documentation even that Red-tailed Hawks drank water in the wild.

Also a point Ohio Red-tail expert John Blakeman made regarding observation of  polyandry in Red-tails generally and in this possible example in particular, very few Red-tails are banded so it is very difficult even with all the lenses in Central Park focused on these famous hawks it is still nearly impossible to prove who is who categorically.  

Therefore polyandry may occasionally occur and no one has suspected it,  let alone proved it.  Right?

If Octavia is actually copulating with two males, you could be right that it's insurance, but I don't know a way to prove it.

Maybe she's a "party girl".  (The phrase is a joke but you know what I mean.) There is aberration of known behavior in many species when you begin looking at specific individuals.  And Red-tails do have very adaptive individualistic behavior in many areas of their lives why not this one in this area?


 I've held the theory for some time that the reason for sexual dimorphism in raptors, the female being larger than the male, is because it is the females who fight each other for the male as opposed to what we much more often see, the males fighting over the females in which case the males are larger.

This could also explain something I've been hard pressed to figure out if there is polyandry going on in this case.  But perhaps if we add my theory and put into play my theory of reverse sexual dimorphism and its explanation perhaps there is an answer.

My question.

If Octavia is copulating with the Plaza Male, and it isn't Pale Male down south, why isn't he bombing down there and cleaning the Plaza Male's clock?

Author of Red-tails in Love, Marie Winn, pointed out to me while I was very green, that pairs are in constant visual contact with each other at this time of year.  And from my own experience I would say that to be true as well.

This is where my reverse sexual dimorphism/females fight females for males, and not the other way around, comes into play.

Also I believe there was a young female Red-tail in the area that Octavia trounced.  She therefore won her right to both males and now she gets to choose.

Positing that Octavia is actually practicing polyandry, Pale Male sees what she is doing-- but remember females fight females for males, he doesn't start any fisticuffs, he just finds more ways to persuade her to choose him instead of the other guy.  More of her favorite foods as gifts.  More renovations on the nest and reminding her of the great location.  More keeping her company, copulating, and doing whatever else may win him the damsel. 

Here is my suggestion for you and Stella Hamilton, (or the more eyes the merrier in both spots), this weekend.  Have your cell phones charged. 

One of you goes down to the Plaza and watches and the other hangs near the Fifth Avenue nest and watches.  The minute one of you sees Octavia and a male you call the other.  If say you see Pale Male uptown and Stella sees Octavia and a male downtown or vice versa, we'll know that polyandry is in progress.  

We'll know categorically that the Plaza Male is not Pale Male. Also that the downtown nest is not Pale Male and Octavia's second choice nest of this season and yes, oh ho, there are two males in play for one female.

I can't wait to see what happens next!

Happy Hawking!

Donegal Browne.


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