Saturday, January 05, 2008


It isn't as cold as the day before but it's still cold enough where folks in Central Park are few and far between. Even so Jeff Kollbrunner and his wife Anna longtime watchers of Red-tail pair Mama and Papa, and I meet up and decide if we can track down Pale Male and Lola. We walk over to the Hawk Bench and it's empty, not a soul in sight. I've just started to check the buildings on Fifth Avenue when Jeff says, "Look!" And here comes Lola from uptown, north. She cruises down Fifth and makes a landing on the north west edge of the water tower cover of Woody.

Then almost immediately changes her mind, they say that's a women's perogative after all, and switches over to the southwest corner and stares at us. Then she sits, and she sits, and she sits. About this time I realize with the cold and all I really would like to go over to the Boat House and use the facilities.

Well, I'm about to be the sacrificial Hawk Watcher, but I don't know it yet. Therefore I tootle up the path towards the Boat House figuring that Lola is there sitting in the sun and will be there when I get back. Right.

I'm on my way back, when I notice a huge pigeon flock behind the Bench being feed by a homeless man with a big white mail cart. I watch. Jeff and Anna seem to have changed viewing position and are looking my way. They get my attention and point. I turn and see nothing. They point again. Ahhh! Lola is perched right over my head, crop stuffed to the gills, eyeing the gentleman's flock of pigeons. In a blink she's off and so are the pigeons. She whips through them, darting, as they panic and head for the four points of the compass. She lands in a tree by the road to the west. Takes off and perches in another tree.

The pigeons are heading for high branches hoping she won't come crashing in on them.

And then Lola is gone, heading over The Lake. The pigeons have headed back toward the Hawk Bench, the opposite direction, and are nervously sitting in the London Plane's top most branches.

Jeff and I head over in hot pursuit. She's in there some place but where?

Where indeed?

Then she flies out, whipping over and disappearing into the trees here.
Comes out, gets altitude and----

... swoops back in and glides through the branches.
What is she doing?

Then back out she comes. Yes, seriously, what is she doing? As she loops and swerves, glides and dives, it looks like, well--it looks like, as I know her crop is stuffed, that she is flying just for the sheer joy of flying.

Then she stoops out of sight. Well, the sheer joy of flying? I think about it and I'd certainly do it if I were capable. But every prey bird in a square mile has just had the begeesus scared out of them. We walk back toward the Hawk Bench. Now there is an Asian tourist handing out peanuts.

The Cardinal would really like one but he stays in the lee of the tree trunk peeking around looking for you-know-who.

This Blue Jay, having the attitude of his kind, doesn't let any thoughts of hawks get in his way, and dives off the branch towards the peanut.

He nabs it but quickly makes it back to a tangle of twigs and looks carefully around himself, just in case.

In the meantime, guess who has circled round and planted herself on the corner of Balance Bar. She is amazing.

Take your joy in flying now Lola for soon, you'll be doing a whole lot of sitting, right up above that cornice over there. You know the one that looks like an eyebrow?
Donegal Browne.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


The young Cooper's transforms.

Pale Male ponders.

Mark Brown's Stellar's Jay

Chickens in trees at Queen's Farm

Pale Male stares at Lola waiting for her to get up.

Emmie bolts at me.

The Frick Mom and ducklings from Eleanor Tauber.

And Independent Duckling who only went when he was ready.

Now scarce locally due to West Nile Virus, my first sighted Wisconsin Blue Jay

Sam the crisp eating Gull

And Pigeons running for the train.
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Day After the Festivities.

Silver may look like he's thinking something but in reality he's awake but no one is home. This is still one tired bird.

All day he hasn't known what to do with himself in the manner of small overtired children. He'll ask for something and then find it completely unsatisfying. He's grumpy and liable to go from staring at nothing to sawing his rope spiral with his beak while saying "Awwwww".
If you look carefully, you'll see he's sawing away with his eyes closed.

Now back to the thousand mile stare.

Eyes drooping it's time for a scratch.

Then more staring. He's talked today, and even resurrected things we haven't heard in years but predominately he's "beeped". An attention getting device used when he really can't think of anything specific he wants (otherwise he'd ask for it specifically) but he wants something. He just hasn't figured out that what he wants is sleep or more precisely being over tired, he just can't seem to go to sleep.

Now it's the big yawn and a scratch, which usually foreshadows dropping off to sleep.

Not today, his eyes are open wide and he's staring some more.
Now some preening with eyes at half mast.

Fix those tail feathers.

Okay, feathers will be ready for tomorrow, perhaps tucking in now might work.

Nope. Head tucked, eyes wide. And note he rarely tucks his head unless he's cold, which he currently isn't, or is very tired.

He untucks, he yawns, and his eyes almost close...

No good, he deals with a recalcitrant feather on his left shoulder.

Pitiful little bags under his eyes, he stares binoc.

Then suddenly he tucks in again and this time, for whatever reason, his eyes slowly close--and stay that way.

Donegal Browne


New Years is always very trying for Quicksilver as we discussed exactly a year ago tonight. Yes, the traditional 2008 New Year's glasses were plopped on the plant near his perch yet again. Though to add insult to injury this year's model has chaser lights on them. But to tell the truth, having not been able to engineer a way into stealing Christmas cookies this year, he's almost too tired to care.

It all been far too chaotic for comfort. Just why are all those people standing in the street beneath his window screaming and attempting to get two blocks further east? And if that isn't bad enough, must the police use bullhorns? It's all extremely trying while attempting to get a little nap before the black eyed peas at one minute past midnight.

Basically Silver is so tired he had to stare at his black eyed peas for five minutes before it registered that there were ham bits that could be fished out.

And is it really necessary for everyone in Manhattan to have their lights on?

Finally, no matter, his eyes slowly closed, popped open and then slowly closed again. They didn't even reopen at the sound of Redi-whip being dispensed.

Donegal Browne

Monday, December 31, 2007

A Pear Eating Hawk in Brooklyn?

Tip checks out the rainy New York City skyline. Her sister Edge decided that sleeping was preferable.
A few days ago, a question came in from Brooklyn via the comments section:

There is a window feeder as well as a suet feeder on the fire escape of my Brooklyn apartment. The birds attracted by this setup are primarily sparrows, house finches and Quaker parrots--and recently hawks.

I've never seen the hawks catch anything but last week there was a surprising incident. Looking out the window, I saw a large red-tail sitting on the railing intently examining the bird feeders. Then the hawk jumped down to the fire escape and grabbed a ripe pear that had fallen off the top of the suet. It then flew off with its prize. Could this be a vegan hawk?

Prior to this incident, I always thought that hawks were exclusively meat eaters.

Dear Brooklyn,

You're not the only one who thinks that hawks are exclusively meat eaters. Everyone else thinks so as well. (Though never say never, just because no one has ever seen it doesn't necessarily mean it never ever happens, at least from the true science point of view.)

By any chance, was there suet on the pear?

A winter or so back, there was an immature Red-tail in Central Park that was extremely partial to suet. Did you notice if the hawk was an adult or immature?

By the way, in which neighborhood in Brooklyn did you see the hawk?


Brooklyn answered :

The pear was mushy and most likely had only the "essence" of suet on it.

Since it's my understanding that hawks don't have a very good sense of smell, that can't be the attraction.

Could it have been so hungry that it would consider eating an over-ripened pear? I didn't get a very good look at the hawk but it was large and stocky in appearance. It seemed to be a Red-tail, but now I can't specifically recall the red tail or dark eyes indicative of an adult.

It's interesting to note that although I was only a few feet away on the other side of the window, the hawk didn't seem especially concerned by my presence. (There is another hawk--possibly a Cooper's--that flees at my slightest movement.)

In previous years, there would be a sighting of a large hawk only once or twice during the winter. Now it's every week. It appears that the only way to discourage the hawks is to stop filling up the feeders.

However, I was initially reluctant to stop feeding the birds because the green Monk parrots show up only in the winter and seem especially dependent on the feeders.

This is all taking place in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn which abuts the Narrows of lower New York harbor.

As a side note, there is a pigeon coop on the roof of an apartment building about a block away, but it's rare to see the owner flying his pigeons anymore. Is it possible that the hawks are turning this area into a no-fly zone for pigeons?

Dear Brooklyn,

I suppose it's possible that the pigeons won't go up because of a hawk they've spotted but I'm wondering if it wasn't the pigeon fancier who decided to turn the area into no-fly zone for pigeons for awhile in hopes that the local raptors might just take a hike without the temptation of squab every other day.

Unquestionably Monks, and other birds as well, in and near cities do depend heavily on feeders, sometimes for their only sustenance. Therefore I've come to the conclusion that available food and a natural predator is most likely preferable to no food with the possible presence of a predator anyway.

And it may not just be the feeders that are causing more sightings of big hawks your way. More and more raptors for whatever reason, whether they are being pressured into human sight by lack of habitat or they were hatched in urban settings and are therefore more habituated to humans, there are just far more raptors around to be seen.

As to a hawks sense of smell, science has often been quite wrong about particular avian species sense of smell so I wouldn't discount completely "essence of suet" being an attractor on the pear. Does squishy pear resemble suet enough to fool a hawk into carrying it away? Currently unanswerable so then what?

Red-tails are adaptable but I have to admit pear snacks seem a bit of a stretch when compared to our current knowledge.

But having said that, pigeons are considered herbivores who's diet in the wild consists of grains and greens. But what New Yorker hasn't seen city pigeons making short work of a stray hot dog on the sidewalk? If I'd only heard about it and not seen it, I'd have wondered if they even had the digestive equipment to deal with meat.

Now it's true that pigeons are "learned eaters". They have to watch other pigeons or perhaps I can't say, just other birds eat in order to know how to do it themselves. It isn't innate.

Some years ago we became the proud foster parents of Tip and Edge, a pair of pigeon sisters. They were orphaned at a few days old and we hand fed them to weaning age, then realized we didn't have a eating role model on hand. It was winter so we bundled them up in a shoe box, little heads sticking out and placed them on the terrace where they'd have a chance of watching their wild compatriots eating. This was fine for a little while. At least until Tip struggled out of her wrappings, hopped out of the shoebox, hot footed it to the terrace door and stood there looking up until we retrieved both of them back into the house.

Tip and Edge did learn to eat seed from watching out the windows. They also, having helped themselves to some bread and butter earlier, developed a real taste for butter that led them to working in tandem to get the lid off the butter dish when the humans were otherwise engaged in cage cleaning.

They had never shown the slightest interest in hot dogs. In fact they were offered hot dog as an experiment once and turned their beaks up at it. Then one day when Tip and Edge were perhaps nine months old, someone, to prove a point that pigeons would eat anything even when not desperate for food, decided to give them a link sausage. I said go ahead, 99.9% sure they wouldn't touch it. Well, the sausage came within reach and they leapt upon it like little white feathered vampires and devoured it in seconds. Then went back to looking the perfect herbivores pecking away at their Haagen dove mix.

I remember being quite taken aback and thinking, "Wow. That was really weird!" And even weirder still, they have never deigned to touch a speck of meat of any kind since.

Therefore who am I to say that a Red-tail, particularly a young one, might not just decide to to try eating a squishy pear one winter's day?

Though I must say, that would make quite the startling photograph now wouldn't it?

Donegal Browne

Seasons Greetings from Blaze the Bunny, and Alex and Washoe Link, Updated

Blaze the Bunny would send Season's Greetings except he's really quite busy chomping on birdseed. His two cohorts had been there as well, but not having the long standing relationship that Blaze does with the blog, they fled. Fear of publicity and all.
And for those who had trouble with yesterday's link, Karen Anne sent in a replacement.
Thank you, K. A. !