Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why Do Turkeys Have Naked Heads? Blakeman on a Red-tail's Age. Plus Bambi and Thumper

Photo by Francois Portmann
I was curious about the Red-tail from the Portmann Hood. Here's what Red-tailed Hawk Expert John Blakeman had to say--

The bird is clearly a second -year Red-tail. The eye color is still a bit yellow, but with the hint of brown often seen in second-year birds. The tip-off is the length of the tail, which is way too short for a first-year bird. Lastly, the shading of the head and shoulders of first-year birds is identically dark chocolate brown. On this bird, the head is a bit tawny compared to the darker shoulders.
Clearly, a second year Red-tail. The horizontal bands of the belly are normal and usual at this age.

Sally of Kentucky sent in what I thought was a very good question.

I was chatting with the Tulsa folks about turkey vultures, their name and their head appearing similar to a turkey's and the usefulness of a "naked" head for a scavenger reaching up into the carcass for the "good stuff", and I started wondering aloud why then would a turkey also have a naked head? It’s certainly not because it is sticking its head up inside a carcass to eat. Camouflage in the high grasses when hiding from Donegal's camera? But other long-necked birds are not naked headed. Hmm. Any thoughts?


Well there are a few other species of long-necked naked headed birds like the Ibis and some Herons, but certainly many more who aren’t.

If you think about it though, many bare headed birds have a characteristic in common, that of brightly colored portions of skin that lump, bump, droop, and wrinkle. Though of course there are feather headed birds that have colorful skin that do have feathers at least on the tops of their heads like chickens.

During breeding season a turkey’s colorful patches become even more vividly colored for courtship purposes. And when a turkey is excited their entire skin tends to color as well. Which no doubt communicates something to other turkeys worth communicating.

I’d always wondered why Quicksilver my African Grey, had only teeny sparse pale feathers over portions of his face, particularly near his eyes. I thought perhaps it was because oil or fat wicked up the feathers and became a problem in some way in the wild where napkins weren’t particularly handy, until I noticed that when he was feeling affectionate and asked to be “tickled”, (a tickle for a Grey is a gentle rub with a finger on his neck and face), his skin took on a blush which was visible to the viewer due to the nearly naked portions of his face. Once again, the lack of feathers, allowed the skin to “communicate” with others.

There may be other reasons for the bald head adaptation as well but that’s what I’ve came up with for the moment.

Photo: Tanja Askani

R. of Illinois looked at these and remembered the blog discussion about just how intensely curious deer are about new smells.

Bambi and Thumper really do exist.

Photo: Tanja Askani

Friday, November 28, 2008

Red-tail Update-Jay works the Tulsa Nest, The Portmann Hood Hawks

Screen Captures courtesy of KJRH and Donna Johnson
Jay carefully surveys the nest. Some of my favorite hawk moments come while watching a hawk scrutinize their nest for possible upcoming improvements. They stand and stare sometimes for several minutes. Then perhaps they'll be some walking about as if to test how things are shaping up.

Notice that this has now been seriously worked on since last season. Not only has last years nesting material been reordered and put into place, but fresh building material has been added.

Courtesy of Donna Johnson
The sides of the bowl are higher and if you look carefully you'll see a leafy twig. It is visible just below the top rail to the right of the masonry.

Courtesy of Donna Johnson
As is often the case, it isn't as easy as one might think to keep the two hawks straight when it comes to which is which. So I thought we could take a look at Jay for possible distinguishing markings.

Photograph by Donna Johnson

White brows aren't all that rare but Jay's white brows are are very distinct and contrasting. Also note that the white continues down over his nose, under his eyes, and into the commonly light area of the front of the neck.

Another individual marker can be the distance the head coloration travels forward onto the breast.

In certain light, the belly band of Isolde and Tristan of the Cathedral couldn't be used for identification. The bands were too similar, in those moments the shoulder coloration was often used as the deciding ID marker.

Speaking of the belly band, Jays tends to be a sequence of a few indistinct dots and in some positions and in some light, it is barely discernible at all.

I've asked Tulsa Hawkwatcher Donna Johnson if she'll send in some captures of Kay as well. We'll try for some compare and contrast of both birds markings for, I hope, easy, fast, and a no miss identification in the future.

(One day I'll tell you some stories about active discussions from the Hawkbench concerning which bird, Pale Male or Lola, was actually sitting the Fifth Ave. nest. Sometimes it just isn't easy.)

Photograph by Francois Portmann of

Professional Photographer Francois Portmann returned to town, only to find that suddenly hawks seemed to be hanging out in his neighborhood--and he couldn't have been happier about it.

I believe the Red-tailed Hawk on the pinnacle is the very good sized formel with light eyes. She could be having her first breeding season coming up this Spring.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
For the longest time I could almost have sworn that Pale Male had pockets. He'd land on the nest without any one of us seeing that he'd carried prey in. Then he'd present Lola with any number of meaty prey items that he'd managed to carry to the nest virtually invisibly.

Notice how well the hawk above has tucked the pigeon up against her spread tail with her talons. With this terrific shot by Francois which freezes the moment, one can see exactly how it's done.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Here's that big girl of a Red-tail. Notice how light her eyes are.

And to round things out, what neighborhood can be complete without a Sharp-shinned Hawk?


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Turkey Day!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, from the Central Park Turkey who took a walk with Photographer Eleanor Tauber,

the Model Boat Pond Mallards,

New York City's House Sparrows,

the pasta "cooking" Crows,

Garage Boy Robin,

Pale Male Jr., Charlotte,

the Killdeer family,

Carol Vinzant's baby squirrels,

Thunder of Tulsa,

the intrepid high nesting Mallard Hen,

the leaping ducklings,

Blue, Pinkie,

beautiful Isolde of the Cathedral,

the Monk Parakeets,

and of course, Pale Male and Lola!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another NYC Red-tailed Hawk Pair? Plus Cape Griffon Vultures

One of Tristan and Isolde's fledglings from their successful 2006 nest.
Here's hoping this season will be just as successful for all New York City's urban Red-tails.

And on that note of hope, a hopeful email came in from photographer and Saturday Night Owler, Francois Portmann--

I'm back in town and I spotted two adult hawks (possibly a pair) in the east village near my house, they seem to be hanging around the hood!
The one I could see clearly is not banded, looks big, may be the female,
though they were fluffed-up in the cold!


And keep in mind this would likely be a different territory, (and a different pair) than that used last season by the Houston pair.

A colony of nesting Cape Griffon Vultures
Photograph by Francois Portmann

As you can see, Francois wasn't just out of town lolling on the beach somewhere. He went off to South Africa and took some spectacular photographs of the wildlife.

Two Cape Griffons fly in tandem. Photo by Francois Portmann

What did I tell you?

You truly must see the rest so go to Francois' website--


Here is Catbird's latest tidbit.
Who's on President George W. Bush's latest pardon list?

Leslie Owen Collier of Charleston, Mo., who pleaded guilty in 1995 to unlawfully killing three bald eagles in southeast Missouri. He improperly used pesticide in hamburger meat to kill coyotes, [aka Prairie Wolves. D.B.] but ended up killing many other animals, including the bald eagles. Collier, who was convicted for unauthorized use of a pesticide and violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, was sentenced Feb. 2, 1996 in the Eastern District of Missouri.

(The local rehabber in this area of Wisconsin gets poisoned raptors one after another as folks do do exactly the same thing around here and as far as I know, no one has been prosecuted as yet.)

Yet again, in Wisconsin, as per most years, since wolves were reintroduced, during the deer gun hunting seasons yet another Grey Wolf was found dead, shot in the woods.

Grey Wolves are still on the Endangered Species List.

Some hunters during the bear hunting season, (yes, bear hunting season) in which hunters use dogs to hunt bears, there have been incidents in which dogs are injured or killed by wolves as the wolves are protecting areas where the females and young congregate. Therefore the hunters want a wolf hunting season beyond expecting to be reimbursed by the DNR if their dogs are injured by wolves even when the incident areas are publicized and hunters are told to avoid them.

It is not unknown for dogs to be killed or injured by bears during the bear season.

Donegal Browne

Beavers to Scotland and Crows and Cutlets Part III

Courtesy of CNN
I hadn't even realized that originally there were beavers in the British Isles until R. of Illinois sent in this link. It seems beavers were extirpated four centuries ago, and they've now realized that without the beavers that various ecosystems just aren't happening anymore and in order to straighten things out, they need some beavers.

Oh yes, and one of the reasons for the six month quarantine, the UK has no rabies and they'd prefer not to import any.

This sounds like a nifty idea, right? Well not to the commercial fishing interests. They of course seem to be ignoring the fact that salmon and beavers evolved together and then lived in the British Isle for thousands of years before the beaver were extirpated.

Then of course there is the BBC for a more comprehensive explanation as to numbers and the process of making sure no beavers in a family were left behind in Norway.


The two Crows on the ground, eat together and eat at the same time. As opposed to either being competitive or one playing sentinel for a few bites and then switching.

She's doing that motion, whatever it is, with the lump of collected fat.

And suddenly they're all gone. My observations pick up again about an hour later.