Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Monks Do Manhattan

Photographs by Donegal Browne
Monk Parakeet, Myiopsitta monachus
Other common names in English include, Quaker Parrot or Parakeet, Gray-breasted Parrot, or Monk Parrot.

Peterson's, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, fifth edition, "Monk Parakeet, Myiopsitta monachus (Argentina) 11" (29 cm) Pale gray face and chest, buff band across belly. Has become established in spots from Conn. to Fla. and west to Ill. and Tex. Nest of sticks (only parrot to build a stick nest), massive with several compartments..."

In some states it's illegal to buy, breed, or own this species. In New York, it isn't illegal to own them but they must be banded and registered. As seeds and fruit are their diet staples, there was a concern that feral Monks might be a nuisance to farmers as they are considered to be in South America, but as they only seem to survive in the feral state where their main food sources are people provided, feeders and the like, some feel this concern is without merit.

There is also dispute about their impact on native bird populations. As to the air conditioner nest site, the non-native pigeons sometimes use these sites but after looking around, I don't see them using them in this particular neighborhood. Monk Parakeets are considered quite tough and in captivity are not kept in the same spaces with other species out of fear of their aggression.
(They sound like they're quite well adapted in the personality department for New York City.)

Manhattan Monk Parakeet Notes

Sunset-4:32PM (NYT)



The nest, under an air conditioner on the sixth floor of an apartment building.

3:31PM No one is home. Some of the local residents stop by for a chat and are quite excited by the prospect of parakeet neighbors but are worried about their survival during winter or if someone moves the air conditioner. A few had noticed the birds nest building but some had not.

There are also twigs on the floor of the fire escape near by. One resident had seen Monks placing the twigs but it wasn't clear if it was the pair from the air conditioner nest or another pair all together. Monk Parakeets are able to survive in colder climes, unlike many other species of parrot, partially because of their snug nest homes. If their homes are tampered with in cold weather they often do not survive.

4:05PM With a series of Aw! Aw! Aw!, they fly in from the west and perch on the fire escape, the one with the twigs, west of the nest. They really are quite a treat visually.

Getting ready to scratch but still keeping an eye on us.
After arriving, the birds then proceed to look around, preen, "talk", and one even does a little dozing. The other, who's turn it must be to be sentinel, parrots tend to have a designated sentry, remains alert even when doing some slight grooming.

Monk colors.
Color description from Guide to Owning the Quaker Parrot, from a set of guides for pet owners.
General plumage green; forehead bluish-grey; lores, cheeks and throat whitish-grey; breast brownish-grey, each feather edged with pale grey; upper abdomen olive-yellow; lower abdomen, rump, thighs and upper tail-coverts yellowish-green; outer webs of flight feathers blue; tail upperside green with blue down centre; underside pale green with greyish-blue base; periophthalmic ring grey; bill brownish-horn colour; iris dark brown; feet grey. Immatures with forehead tinged greenish.

Though even more unclear in this web sized version of the photo, might that be the flash of a band worn on the leg doing the scratching?

I can't confirm but I was told by a neighbor, who was using binoculars, that he saw a silver band on the right ankle of one of the birds.
An exotic bred in the U.S. would wear a closed band on the right.

Sounding off.
A Monk Parakeet's lifespan in captivity, barring accidents or disease, is 20 to 30 years. Some sources say they can produce young twice a year. They lay 4 to 8 eggs in captivity. Hatch time is 24 to 28 days. The young fledge in about 6 weeks.

The difference in the sexes is slight and therefore DNA testing is often done to sex birds in captivity. (Of course there is always just waiting to see who lays eggs.)
Females are generally larger than males.

4:28PM One bird takes off and does a fly-by of the nest, but as the other doesn't follow, he comes right back to perch with the first.

4:31PM Then they are both off, and zip, these birds are quick, into the nest they go.
Snuggled in, they look out, still keeping an eye on things.
4:57PM Exit.
Donegal Browne

Waiting For Godot Hawk

1:28PM Before I've even stepped into the park, I see a Red-tail circling right at tree top level over Strawberry Fields. I rush across the street but I've lost it. It's a sunny mild day and the park is filled with people, meandering down the paths, even eating ice cream though it is the end of November.
At the Hawk Bench, photographer Rik Davis tells me that Pale Male and Lola have already visited twice so far today. The empty nest, suddenly looks even emptier.
1:57PM A squirrel whines east of the Hawk Bench, but not a raptor in sight.

Visitors from all over the world drop by for a look at the nest. "Yes, he's a Red-tailed Hawk. See the shorter building, the top floor, the cornice just above the middle window. You've got it."

I begin to notice that one of the Mallard hens is really quite ferocious. Beware this Mallard, she's a fast paddler with an even faster bill. She's got even the drakes cowed, not known for their timid attitudes. Don't get between this girl and a peanut if you don't want to get chewed on. She's quite the Valkyrie Duck.

3:17PM I've left the scope in another Hawk Watcher's care and have gone to check out the birds in the Butterfly Garden from the parking lot. Wait! There's a Red-tail circling above the Ramble, looks to be heading for the nest. I run back to the scope, but the hawk never comes.
3:28PM A Kestrel wings north on Madison Avenue, disappears behind a building and never comes back out again.

I look down to my right where a very small boy has been feeding the birds bits of bagel. I'd thought all the pigeons had gone but one remained and the sparrows have surrounded him. Today is very strange.

At the north end of the Model Boat Pond, a squirrel eats the winter buds off twigs.

Katherine Herzog, who tracked down the information on the rescued hawk, stops by . She tells me that the Squirrels have begun "doing it". Copulating that is. Interesting. I'd no idea.
James Lewis, long time Hawk Watcher, arrives with his niece, just to check how things are going.

The Golden Light comes over Fifth Avenue, still no hawks and getting on to official sunset.
Almost time to go.

The Mallards begin to go to sleep but not Valkyrie Hen, she's still vigilant, alert, bill ready, when I walk away.
4:43PM Waiting for the light next to the Webster statue, I see a bat swirling above a hansom cab as it begins the curve. Abruptly a second bat from Strawberry Fields joins it and they keep swirling, just above the cab, matching it's speed perfectly as it rounds the bend.

I'd not gotten a good look at a hawk all day. Standing in Strawberry Fields, I see squirrels cavorting on the branches. Were they going to "do it" as Katherine would say? The contrast between dark and light could make an interesting photograph. I wait until they are positioned, when out of the corner of my eye, perhaps six feet away and four above the ground, gliding easily, flies a Red-tailed Hawk. I try to push the button on the camera and jerk right to catch it go past-- at the same time.
Then I make the mistake. I look down at the camera screen to see if it's there, just for a second. There's nothing but blurry trees and when I look up, the hawk is gone. Inexplicably, unfindably at roost, gone.

Just another example of Red-tail humor and a reminder, as one should always give the moments of one's life their just worth instead of always waiting for Godot or Godot Hawk for that matter, one should also very much try to remain in the moment--not in the documenting of it.
Donegal Browne

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Pale Male and Lola

Photograph by Lincoln Karim of
(Upfront let me apologize for the formating issues in this post. DB)
The discussion started with a question in the comments section from an anonymous reader under the entry Pale Male and Lola sit on Linda. I answered him and then John Blakeman had some thoughts as well.
(By the way, It's weird talking to the nameless in the case of an Anonymous so I'm just going to name this Anonymous, "Bif".)
Bif wrote, "I thought that hawks kept to themselves for most of the year. Why are Pale Male and Lola different? "
I responded, "Why are Pale Male and Lola different? To tell you the truth, I'm afraid we'd have to ask them for the best answer and as far as I know they aren't much for talking to humans.
Actually we're not even sure if they are that completely and utterly different. We do know that some of Pale Male's previous mates did seem to become scarce in the off breeding season. One may even have taken a vacation to New Jersey and been hit by a car.But in reality, as it's so difficult to observe many Red-tail pairs in their usual territories, we don't really know exactly how rare Pale Male and Lola's penchant for hanging out together in the non-breeding season actually is. Though the common wisdom concerning "normal" Red-tail behavior would lead us to believe that it is very rare.
Just theorizing here, but it might have something to do with the high prey availibility in Central Park. There is plenty of food so why venture further afield, bringing us back to the Raisin Bread Theory.Then one might ask why the other mates weren't observed more doing the same, if it had to do with prey? Well, here's a little secret, there is very little to do with wildlife behavior that stems from only one "cause", in my opinion, unless it has to do with innate "wiring".
Red-tails, once again in my opinion, have to come up with solutions to various environmental needs either through observation of other hawks or experimentation to find the solution on their own. They are generalists and don't have an innate solution to everything wired in. For instance, Pale Male discovered how to take pigeons as prey. Not something that his ancestors seem to have been doing or one would think that the ancestors of the pigeons would have evolved some kind of wired-in response to help them from being so easily nabbed.
Now from what I've been told Lola was young when she appeared on the scene and turned Pale Male's head. Her eyes had not completely darkened yet from report. She is unlikely to have had a previous mate who kept his distance in the off season.Also from report, some of Pale Male's earlier mates were more experienced females who may have passed breeding seasons with other mates and the pairs may have done the "usual" branching out to other hunting grounds due to prey availibility during the off season. They may even have been from territories from which Red-tails migrate.
Once learned a behavior that works tends to be kept.As far as I know, Pale Male has tended to winter in Central Park keeping an eye on things. Perhaps Lola, not having had any other experience to the contrary just took his cue and stayed around too. Though that doesn't really account for their sitting around in the same tree together as there are plenty of other spots to companionably sit apart if that's the urge and pass the winter with full crops.Without question these two birds are very deeply bonded.
And....there is also the fact that they are Sovereigns of Central Park. What is it Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth says to Katherine of France when she says it isn't the custom for certain behaviors to take place between them? "...nice customs courtesy to great kings. You and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country's fashion: we are the makers of manners."
And from Mr. Blakeman-


I just happened to read your remarks to the person who wondered about why the two hawks are spending the off-season so closely together in Central Park.

Your comments I think are right on. I can only add that I have a number of wild pairs out here where very similar winter behaviors are seen, albeit less frequently. But that is probably because our old pairs occupy 2- and 3-square mile territories, with lots of small but dense woodlots where the birds can sit and not be seen.

The food "thing" is the thing. With lots of available food, the CP hawks can spend inordinate amounts of time sitting around and otherwise dallying. Instead of hunger and the prospects of going for several days without available prey, as out here with my wild red-tails, the always fat (or at least sated) CP birds can respond to the gentle hormonal prompts evolving from the decreased photoperiods at this time of year.
John Blakeman

The Giving of Thanks for The Colors of Trees

Photograph by Eleanor Tauber
Long ago, in a small town in the Midwest where I was to live for a year, there was a particular tree across the street from my bedroom window. It was particular because amongst the branches of that tree was a street light. At night each leaf of a particular bough was illuminated in particular detail, a bright spot in a dark night. And as it was a new town, and I was the new kid in a town where there seldom were new kids, any bright spot, even those on the leaves of a tree, was welcome.
Not knowing anyone and having plenty of time to think, to look, to read, to cast about for something, anything, I watched the trees on the street. I watched how they moved with wind, how the raindrops struck their leaves and as Autumn came and the air grew crisp, I watched their many varied greens begin their transformations to red and purple, yellow, orange, and brown.
"Why do the leaves change colors?" I asked. And I was told, "They change because it's getting colder, winter is coming."
"Oh. ", I said.
That made sense, or I thought it did until I noticed the bough next to the streetlight hadn't lost it's green at all. Wasn't the world the same temperature for it than for the others?
Why wasn't it changing? No one seemed to notice and when I pointed it out, they saw it but it didn't catch their curiosity, their lives were far too busy.
Then that bough too began to change but all the other branches even on the same tree had passed through their colors and their leaves had begun to fall. Not on my bough.
Then when walking to school , I began to see that...Wait just a minute, there were other boughs on other trees behaving exactly the same way.
Because each had a streetlight amongst it's leaves. Could it be true? It was something about the streetlight. Heat? The heat wouldn't reach that far. Perhaps, it wasn't the cold spurring the others on, perhaps it was a difference in light that made the difference. This was serious.
People were giving me the bad information.
One of my frowned upon activities which placed me in the "strange" category as a new kid was my habit of reading while walking back and forth to school. So like any good bookworm, I went to the library to find out.
And there in a volume, not tattered from overuse, was the world of green Chlorophyll. The green that masks other colors. When the night reaches a threshold value, the abscission layer of cells goes mad and divides and divides and divides in between the leaf and the twig. But that little spot doesn't get any bigger, rather it becomes so crammed with cells that the route between leaf and tree is blocked off. No minerals can go from the roots to the leaf, no carbohydrates from the leaf to the rest of the tree. The Chlorophyll can't be replaced and as it turns out, Chlorophyll gets sun bleached.
Sun bleached? Who would have thought?
And as the green fades away, the yellow pigments, the xanthophylls and the orange of carotenoids are revealed. They've been there all the time. Quite delightful, hiding in plain sight.
Not so the anthocyanins, the reds and purples, they are manufactured from the sugars trapped in the leaves. As the days get shorter the abscission cells get dryer and corkier, some trees loose their leaves while still colorful. Others may keep them for awhile but all the pigments eventually break down in the light or when they freeze. That is, except the tannins. And the tannins are brown. Then the leaves themselves break down into the soil....
Kicking through the brown leaves on the way to school, I can't help but think how much the people are missing who find leaves an annoyance that must be raked and burned for their sheer messiness. Leaves have gone through an incredible metamorphosis and they too have a use and a mission. And because they have and do, they are always a "bright spot" no matter their color. In fact, when you look very closely at them, just like so many other things, they are downright illuminating.
Donegal Browne

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hawks Looking Through Windows

After reading my thoughts in Pale Male and Lola Sit on Linda, John Blakeman sent in some of his own regarding Red-tails facing windows.

Be assured. Neither Lola or Pale Male are facing the windows to peer inside the buildings.

Can they see inside? Just as well as we could, were we perched up there.

But are they interested in what is going on inside these apartments? Not at all. Although it might appear that they are looking in, they aren't. Or at least not for long. Neither bird decided to face the window to peer inside.

Hawkwatchers need to understand that hawks have two foveae in each eye, not one (as in humans and other mammals). It will be recalled from school health or biology classes that the fovea is the small, cell-packed area of the eye where detailed vision is centered. Humans have one fovea, so we can see only a single, central spot of visual clarity. Our hawks, however, have two of these in each eye, one positioned to see forward, as we do, and a second one positioned to see exceptionally well out of the side of the eye.

So, when it appears that Lola is watching someone's afternoon soaps, looking straight into the window, she is not. In fact, she's looking sideways down both directions of the street. She's spotting both the sky and the ground for interesting or threatening new objects that would come into her wide, lateral field of vision.

She might look inside the window for a moment, but only to discern if there is any threat. After that, her attention is behind and beside her, where she must concentrate her thoughts.

I've mentioned this before elsewhere. Don't for a moment think that when our red-tails are sitting quietly and motionless up on a high perch that they are merely passing the time idly. Although the hawks appear to be rather disengaged from everything around them, such is not so. They are mentally noting everything of interest, the flying past of a peregrine high over a street several blocks away, the landing of a flock of pigeons out in the park, the scampering of squirrel across a Central Park lawn, and any number of other faunal activities.

If one of the landed pigeons begins to appear inattentive in rising with the flock when a dog approaches, or if the squirrel stops too far out into the lawn, distant from a tree of refuge, Lola notes it all. Not only that, she's continually processing all of this to determine her most efficient flight off the perch for her next meal, which could be hours away.

Our hawks are contemplative intellectuals, continually surmising the entire landscape. They leave the soaps and other domestic trivialities to what they must regard as a much lesser species, human beings, who can't concentrate, can't stay focused, can't see much, and can't even fly.

Poor us. We watch the soaps.

John Blakeman
(For more thoughts on Pale Male and Lola hanging out together see the comments section of Pale Male and Lola sit on Linda. D.B.)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Woodland Gardens and Is the Long Ear really Gone?

Photograph by Donegal Browne
On the Lake

Male House Sparrow forages for seeds in the herbaceous layer.

I know, give you a break, he's ground feeding, right? Of course. But, lately I've been gathering material on American Woodland Gardens in order to prove that the Hell's Kitchen Bird Park fits the category. It has started me thinking again about the "official layers".

Once one pays attention, let's face it, portions of Central Park are the most magnificent examples of the Woodland form anywhere.

Just take a look below at Eleanor Tauber's lovely photograph taken in Central Park.

By The Pool, enter at Central Park West entrance near 113th St.
(Actually at 103rd as a number of sharp eyed readers pointed out. D.B.)
Within this one photograph most of the layers of a Deciduous Forest or Woodland Garden are visible.

The tallest trees are the Canopy.

The intermediates, the Understory,

Then the Shrub Layer,

The grasses and smaller vegetation, the Herbaceous Layer.

See the artfully placed rocks? Yes, all those rocks in Central Park were brought in. They are the Ground Layer.

The only layer I can't quite see in this photograph is the Climbing or Vine layer, though I know that it exists.

Frederick Law Olmstead often added birds and animals to his designs. As many of you know, the Sheep Meadow originally had sheep and a shepherd in residence. At the Chicago World's Fair he added Swans to the little waterways in his design.

Olmstead didn't have to add birds to Central Park, his design and it's location have made Central Park one of the top birding spots anywhere.

Speaking of which, I understand that the Long Eared Owl has moved and might have flown the coop altogether. Does anyone know if she's been spotted again?

Alright, now that you've been distracted, go back up to the top photo and see how many of the layers you can discover there.

Donegal Browne