Saturday, December 16, 2006

Give a Pair of Urban Red-tails a Helping Hand

Pale Male the original urban hawk, stands on his nest.
Some readers will remember the 97nd St. hawks as they were called who, for a number of years, attempted to build their nest on an air conditioner at Mr. Sinai Hospital. And year after year, it did not work. The twigs just wouldn't stick.

Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte had similar problems at their site on The Trump Parc. With no pigeon spikes to anchor the twigs, they couldn't get enough material built up to keep the eggs in the nest. No matter what Charlotte did, the twigs blew away and the eggs rolled off. Then in 2005 as the eggs had gone over the edge yet again, they laid a second set. We had a bit of a drought that summer and therefore no cold drenching rain and less wind. The second set hatched nicely and with some luck and more nest depth, they should be fine again this year.

The point here is, that it's tough-going for urban RTs to find all the nest requirements they need for success in their urban setting. There are no doubt any number of factors that they take into account in deciding where a nest would work best. Perhaps, prevailing wind, prey availability, green space for fledges, protection from weather, morning or afternoon sun, privacy, distance from other raptor nests, are only some that may be at play. Only they know them all. And once they decide the optimum spot they'll try their darnedest to make a nest on just about anything, pieces of scaffolding, window ledges, ornaments, and the ever popular air conditioner that is in the spot they've decided is best. And they'll keep trying for years without ever having success.

We hawk watchers of course, think urban Red-tails are a grand addition to the urban ecosystem for many biologically sound reasons. And perhaps a tiny bit selfishly, we do love having a nest full of eyasses to watch and are very saddened when a nest fails. Forget saddened, we get downright depressed. Particularly when a pair fails year after year after year while we humans, stand on the ground looking up and thinking of all the possible things that might be done to help them to succeed in keeping their nest together.

Add the thought that in other cases, where there seem to be all the other territory and nest requirements hawk families need, including loads of rats that really could use some predation, but only blank walls or tiny windowsills for which there isn't the slightest chance of anchoring a nest, so Red-tails never even appear and try, that perhaps as was done with the Monk Parakeets, with the installation of the right contraption a pair of Red-tails might just be lured into taking up residence, building a nest, and starting a family.

Now that's a thought.

John Blakeman, our Red-tail answer man, reading all these discussions out there in Ohio, didn't just discuss, he decided to do something about it. He drew up some plans for contraptions, or as he calls them Nest Nooks, that could be installed and TA DA, where once there was a blank wall or a horizontal surface in which twigs would always blow away or just fall off, instead is the underpinnings for a lovely urban hawk nest.

Here's what John Blakeman had to say-

The attachment is a PDF document showing the RT nest support platform I designed. It's based upon wild nest dimensions, along with nest information I learned when I conducted a captive breeding trial with red-tails back in the early 1970s.

I'm not attaching the instructions and site management document -- which frankly just hasn't been written. But a structure could be fabricated from the drawing.

John Blakeman

(As I had trouble getting the picture big enough on the blog so the words could be read, here is a link, courtesy of Mark Brown, computer whiz, where the plan can be easily viewed. D.B.)

Donegal Browne

Friday, December 15, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Monks Accept Specially Prepared Nest Position. Could Red-tails Be Next?

Two surviving and formerly homeless Quaker parrots displaced by United Illuminating's wild parrot eradication campaign found safe haven in Julie Cook's artificial nest on January 18th, 2005.
Photo by Joanne Smith.

Though Monk Parakeets are exotics and there is fear they may displace native species, one should never forget that cruelty to one species sets a precedent that cruelty to any creature is acceptable. There are always other options.

The following, courtesy of Steve Baldwin of Brooklyn Parrots. (see links)

Yankee Ingenuity Trumps Cruelty in Connecticut

During the darkest moments of the Connecticut Quaker Parrot Crisis of 2005, Julie Cook's example gave pro wild parrot activists strength. When United Illuminating came for the parrots she knew and loved in West Haven, she refused to step aside. Instead, she actively blocked the "death squad", and was promptly handcuffed, fingerprinted, and locked up for the night. Only after it was discovered that she had not been read her Miranda rights was Julie freed.

Two months later, a lot has happened in Connecticut. United Illuminating, pressed by a lawsuit, has temporarily stopped killing the parrots. Citizens are building artificial nesting platforms designed by Marc Johnson. And yesterday: wonder of wonders, a pair of the displaced parrots decided to take up residence right in the artificial nest that Julie built in her yard: the first birds to do so in West Haven. This development isn't just a beautifully poetic event for Julie and the birds she likely saved from the gas chamber. The success of artificial nesting platforms in Connecticut is likely to inspire further development of artificial nesting platforms - not by expensive consulting firms, well-endowed universities, or profit-through-the-roof energy companies - but by private citizens who love birds and want to help them.

Coming Soon- Artificial Nesting Platforms for Urban Red-tailed Hawks

Donegal Browne


What are those twigs doing to the left of the main nest. Hoping for neighbors? Besides, in the right light you can see a bare interior. Will they do something about that eventually?
Over the past week or so I've been in a number of discussions as to whether the Manhattan Monks were done with their nest. Having never watched wild parrots before, I automatically compared them with the hawks that I've watched nest building the last few years. Perhaps not the best idea upon reflection. After all, think about the huge difference in behavior amongst avian species. Expect the same behavior from House Wrens and Emperor Penguins? I don't think so.

Then there was my other problem, the word "nest". Why is nest a problem? Why does it give me such a niggle? Probably because of the number of times every hawk season that the hawk watchers have to explain to visitors that a nest is used only for eggs and young. It's not a house; the hawks don't sleep in it year round.

What to do?
I contacted our local wild parrot expert Steve Baldwin of

And what did he say a Monk domicile is sometimes called? A Monk-bunker!
I do like that.

As to my questions concerning whether the Monks were done? Would they twig the metal above and the building behind their current twig confection? What are all those "extra twigs" on the fire escape and to the left side of the main Monk-bunker?

Here's what Steve had to say-

I'm not sure if the monks will keep the steel ceiling of the nest bare. It's possible that they will: they do this a lot when they build a similar nest under a transformer, but I think this is because the transformers typically are warm.

There appear to be several stages to "monk bunker" construction. Twigs seem to be brought up, and then stuffed into place, during what is essentially an extended fetching session. Later on, their position is refined and trimming work is done. It may take a while for this bunker to look neat. There are, after all, only two birds doing the work.

And someone needs to keep a look out full time for that Red-tail that periodically glides by. D.B.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pale Male and Lola Switch

Pale Male
Fifty-seven degrees on a Monday in December, now isn't that interesting. The sun is shining brightly on and off and not having to wear a muffler and long underwear can't be beat. But there is that ever present niggle in the brain. The thought of why it's fifty-seven degrees in December is hard to get away from. Tough to be in the moment.
The hawks don't have that problem. They are the moment. Lola, sits on the Oreo grate, warm air undoubtedly fluffing her under side. She watches the sky, there's something to be examined it seems everywhere she looks. Taken in, filed for later, or perhaps something to be dealt with immediately. She will. She does. She is.

1:45 Lola on Oreo grate.

When I turn from the path to the Hawk bench, there are the sounds of small engines and a rasping sound. Men in orange vests, with a variety of strange contraptions, are scraping the bottom of the Model Boat Pond. It's almost dry now, just a little puddle in the middle. I asked after the fish a while back when they'd begun to drain it and yes, they have been taken to The Lake. Not so many this year to be moved, I'm told, as the gulls and the Cormarants have been busy this summer making them into lunch.

Rik Davis, nature photographer, is alone on the bench. That's rare. Perhaps the sounds of machines and the faint fragrance of fishiness has caused the less than stalwart to avoid the Model Boat Pond today, or to be correct, The Conservatory Water. That's the official name and it's still on the maps. They just never quite got around to building the Conservatory.

1:46 Lola to Oreo antenna.

1:47 Lola off the grate, to north then reappears, circles above Oreo then to...?
It's a strange sort of day and for a few minutes unexpectedly and rather to our chagrin, neither Rik nor I can remember the name of the place where she's going. CEDAR HILL! Yes that's it.

We exchange the news. Having watched the Monks the day before, I think I've no doubt missed something big here. It usually never fails, but not this time. Yesterday had been about waiting for a glimpse and many didn't even get that. Rik tells me a family drove in with their children from New Jersey just to see the hawks but the hawks didn't appear for them. It is a gamble everytime one makes the trip from home. And I think again that perhaps the folks in casinos and those on the Bench have more in common than one would think. The "not knowing", the anticipation, the rush of adrenalin when the hawks appear and you "win". But there is always the next time when you may or may not.

I sit on the Bench, something I rarely do. The trees have now grown enough that the view while sitting, is now obscured by twigs here and there.

WAIT! There's a hawk.

2:03 Lola has returned, and is on the far side of the Oreo grate, hunched down a little and
not the easiest to see.

2:04 She watches gull go by. Later in the spring that kind of fly-by will not be tolerated. No not one little bit. She'll be up and chasing with vigor anything remotely near the area.

2:29 Lola off to Oreo antenna.
I click the camera just in time to catch a a leg and a few tail feathers. She's onto the antenna but is back off in a flash and back to the higher and warmer grate. Though still watching the direction in which she'd begun to go before turning around. Whatever is was seems to have gotten the message.
Rik mentions that the kids have done their yearly scavenging of collecting the coins from the bottom of the pond.
The Ginko fruit is ripening. Their odor reminicent of dog poop wafts about the park, and elder Asian women sweep the windfalls into piles and carefully collect them to make delicacies.

2:31 Lola back to Oreo grate.
2:37 I'm distracted. 10 gulls wheel high over Oreo, first the gleam of white wing, then white belly and back again. I watch the gulls. By now I've moved the scope out to the edge of the empty pond for the better view and there have been a trickle of watchers making their way to the Hawk Bench. It seems for whatever reason to be a "guy day" at the bench. There they are in all shapes and sizes talking about guy things sitting on the Bench.
Then without even realizing I'm doing it, at the sight of dark wings coming from the north, I call out, "Hawk up!"
2:43 A Red-tail comes from the north, circles over Lola on Oreo, then flies south over Fifth Avenue buildings, lands on fence post on downtown roof line of Linda Building.
The voices stop and we watch that beautiful flight, seen many times before, but somehow fresh each time.
A voice calls from behind me, "Is it his Nibs?" And indeed it is.

Pale Male does have a good bit of charisma there is just no doubt about it. And he stays on that perch for a good while, checking all directions, all levels, encompassing the all.
3:19 Pale Male turns, sees, and leaves. He flies west, then curves north round the west edge tree line of the Model Boat Pond.

Pale Male was perched on a fence pole on the roof at the point where Linda on the left and Squished Building next to it meet. That's Ugly White Condo on the far right.

Pale Male's fence pole perch-closer.
See the white vent pipes, the "leggy mushroom" capped items? Just to the right is a pole holding several rows of barbed wire which anchor to the roof.

3:33PM Lola is back on the grate and now her feathers pick up the orange of the angled sun. Golden Light time comes very early this time of year.

3:36 She looks toward the Ramble.
3:41PM Then she looks up, fixedly toward something in flight.
3:46 A very large low flying plane heads towards Lola. Though the air is reasonably still near the ground it's quite gusty at hawk height.
3:48 Lola, still sitting on the grate of Oreo, focusing on an area Pale Male was particularly interested in earlier.
3:52 Suddenly she's gone. Perhaps part of the gamble is that everytime you see them go out of sight, you expect to see them again, No not this minute necessarily, or even tomorrow as one's timing might be bad--but sometime. But when will that sometime be?
4:07 Exit. It occurs to me that Lola will now hold the record as Pale Male's mate of longest duration...knock wood.

Donegal Browne

Pale Male and Lola Switch Off

Monday's field notes and photos will appear Tuesday as it 's quite late to get them uploaded tonight.
It was a beautiful day at the Hawk Bench with one or the other hawks available to watch for most of the afternoon. The Hawkwatchers are beginning to find their way back to the bench again.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Monks Flee Raptor and Pale Male Eats A Rat

3:00PM I arrive at 103rd. and Amsterdam. Cal Vornberger, nature photographer, and Liz an avid watcher of the Cathedral Hawks, are already there, leaning against a fence. I can tell, nobody is home. But they do tell me that Pale Male has staged another of his media events. He nonchalantly sat on a very low branch eating a rat in full view for all to see. And they did, the estimated crowd was sixty people. Did Pale find any problem with that, not on your life.

We wait a while longer and Cal leaves. I'm figuring our birds are going to show up around four so Liz and I point the scope at the nest and field questions from passers-by for awhile. Then there is that Monk Parakeet in flight call and off they go over our heads to the west. We decide after a few minutes they aren't coming back right away so we go in search of a supposed tree nest that someone had supposedly seen. Not with any hopes that it existed actually but the Monks had gone that way so why not take a gander. No nest and no Monks were found. We return to our post across from the nest. Another fly-by of the Monks-in the other direction. We wait.

4:03 Right on time they fly to the fire escape, the staging area before the short hop into their roost house.

The Monks are quieter this evening. Not that these two tend to be noisy when perched in the way a flock tends to be. Why attract attention to themselves for no reason? Even physically they are less active for they don't do their usual end of the day preen. What is going on?

Dozing? No, sleepy perhaps but there is still a slit of an eye watching the environment.

4:23PM Suddenly they're off with a characteristic aak, aak, aak, aak, along with every single
other bird in the neighborhood, from sparrow to gull. Suddenly with a rush of wings, they've all become invisible. The raptor must be very disappointed.

4:33PM They return to the fire escape. When the Monk pair arrived this time they stayed much closer to each other than they had before the fly off. In fact they often looked in the same direction as if searching for something.

A snuggle before roosting? Either that or a prod to get going toward the Monk House.

4:39PM In for the night and not looking very friendly toward possible visitors.

Note the fresh green material at the top of the "doorway" and the clipped edge of the entrance on the left. I'd seen the pile of twigs on the fire escape but Liz noted they've also stockpiled some on the left outside edge of the nest.

AND now for something completely different....
Research finds urban birds sing louder than their country cousins. (Gosh, you wouldn't think it would be all those cars, trucks, construction, and sirens, would you?)
Link courtesy of John over at
Donegal Browne

The Bird Park Before and After plus Vole Runways

BEFORE. The Bird Park in better days.
Having just returned to town, I decided to walk by the Bird Park to see how the wintering birds were doing. Strangely I found the chain and padlock hanging on the fence and the gate unsecured. I went inside.

A White-throated Sparrow at a loss as to what happened.

Usually these little guys flit away immediately when a human gets too close. This one just sat in the bare tree, even when I approached it and stood only a few feet away. I admit I was rather feeling at a loss myself. Below is what I found.

AFTER. The Bird Park today.
Above is what the White-throat and I were seeing. The Landlord next door seems to have started the construction thought to have begun many years ago. The Bird Park was even closed for an entire year, some years ago, in preparation for construction that never occurred until this last week And the promises, also made long ago to be extremely careful of all the vegetation and property unkept. His workman trampled the vegetation, broke branches off the Dogwood among other things and must have left the gate unsecured at the end of the work day Friday.

From John Blakeman, in regards to the discussion concerning the Red-tail on the sapling in the median and how voles venture out into the world.
He wrote-
This is a photo I took of a network of vole runways under some winter snow. For most of the year, these are under the grass.
This illustrates the way the voles move from nest to nest or grass clump to grass clump.