Saturday, June 05, 2010

Survivor Divine, Offspring of Isolde and Norman Divine of the Cathedral Nest, Fledges!

All of today's Photos by Stella Hamilton's brother James
Survivor hops and flaps just before fledging.

Long time watcher of Red-tail nests, Stella Hamilton, sent this report and called me with the original news in post below this one-

Dear Donna,

When my brother James and I arrived at 6pm at Saint John the Divine, our baby hawk was pretty active in the nest flapping and running about St.Andy's back. Other hawkwatchers present were Adam Weltz,Sarah, Robert Schmunck, and Susan Gibson.

Today, he seemed a bit more excited up until 7:15 when he decided he would just spend the rest of the evening preening and nibbling on scraps in the nest. So we all thought .This he did until around 7:40, when we were all thinking of calling it quits.

At 7:44, just as soon as we all decided to go home, Baby ( by the way, I like the name Survivor ) stood on St.Andy's right shoulder and flew ! It seemed like one of those effortless first flights, you know. He had no fear. Survivor headed off towards the roof of St.Luke's Hospital ,across the street,and landed between the urn and the chimney. It didn't take long before a Kestrel, a Robin some finches and a Mocking bird discovered him.

My brother was able to get pics of Survivor on the roof. Sorry we were unable to capture him in flight. It all happened so fast. (The sacrificial birders were Susan and Adam and Sarah. )
love, Stella

Thanks Stella, hearing your voice on the first call and getting your report was as good as being there. Just like old times!

Also on site for the event was one of the main watchers at the Cathedral Nest Rob Schmunk, his several reports of the fledge follow--

The cathedral baby red-tail fledged this evening at about 7:43.

It was an awesome first flight, as it went all the way from the south side of the nest to the roof of St. Luke's hospital, a good 50 yards or more. We haven't seen it since but obviously the hospital finches know where it is.


This was my my first fledge. I guess you could say on the 8th try,
as I'd missed the last seven kids to leave the cathedral nest.

There were six people watching tonight, and unfortunately, three
left about 15 minutes before the big event.

No pix of the actual event as all I could do was watch. But pix from
before and after at


A few slight corrections to the earlier msg...

It was robins rather than finches who were complaining about
the baby hawk being in their territory, and he did poke his head
up for a couple minutes shortly after I sent the e-mail.

Also, Google Earth says it was 90 yards from touchdown to
landing. I don't think the fledgling lost altitude the entire flight.
A very impressive effort.

For those who might be out bright and early Saturday morning,
the baby was last seen on the SE corner of St. Luke's roof,
lurking along/behind the railing along the eave. Presumably the
local robins and mockingbirds will provide clues.


Thanks Rob, wonderful to hear such good news and what a superb first flight!

When all else fails when being mobbed, just give them the old upside-down-head-look.

Donegal Browne
P.S. Was diagnosed with pneumonia today so posts may be a little scanty for a while. Sorry.

Friday, June 04, 2010


I just got a call from long time nest watcher and very excited Stella Hamilton-

At 7:44PM The Cathedral Nest Fledgling took off from the left shoulder of St. Andrew and flew across the parking lot and 113th St. to the roof of the Plant Pavilion at the hospital. She landed between the urn, one of Tristan's old perches and the chimney which is a favorite of her parents, Isolde and Norman.

This is an excellent place to land from a first flight. Food can easily be brought and eaten and there are a variety of levels on the roof to practice skills upon, plus tree branches within reach of a very short flight.

There has always been a running joke at the Hawk Bench which spread to other nest locations , that before anything really good happens there is a sacrificial birder, a person who leaves just before it happens. In this case, it was filmmaker Adam Welz who left about 15 minutes before the fledge.

I also heard that Rob Schmunk was also on the spot, he'll have had his camera,
Donegal Browne

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Jewel, Highbridge Eyass, Wood Ducks, Twin Whooping Cranes, and Hurray! A new urban Red-tail nest in Cambridge MA.

Photo by D.B.

Jewel does a little pleasurable preening with her eyes closed but soon she'll be distracted by her parents screaming, diving and making contact with an intruder Red-tailed Hawk.

Photograph by Mitch Nusbaum
But today first off is a Highbridge Update from Mitch Nusbaum-
Today at noon, Wednesday (6/2) there were 2 eyasses flapping and hopping as a parent sat to the upper right out of the image. The one on the right the other one is center.
All Wood Duck, Aix sponsa, Photos by Roger Brown

Remember Roger and Jackie Brown who virtually live in the woods. They of yesterday's turkeys and deer?

In Wisconsin there is some kind of special deal with the DNR. If you put in a pond on your property you get some kind of special deal, a tax credit or the like. Therefore, besides the fact they like ponds, they put one in. And they also put up Wood Duck Houses. That is one of this year's Mom's giving Roge the binoc, who-are-you-and-what-are-you-doing? look.

For the past three years the wood duck houses have been in use. In a past year Roger accidentally caught the hen coming out with the ducklings and much to his surprise, they swam around for a little while, trouped into the woods, and never came back. That, it turns out is what wood ducks do. Hence the name Wood Ducks.
Also it turns out, wood ducks have strange little feet, fit for swimmng but also for climbing. Feet exposed, Mama is getting ready to hop into the pond for a little swim and some lunch.
Which she does while keeping a sharp eye on Roger, who is way, way, up the hill sitting quietly in a chair trying to get some photos. He is waiting for the moment when she seems to be coming out alone but suddenly she comes out the door followed by a long string of ducklings. (Much more on Ducklings, by the way, from wildlife rehabilitator Cathy Horvath in an upcoming post.)

This Duckling Deluge, so far, comes sometime on Memorial Day weekend, often on Memorial Day itself.

Paddle, paddle

She has now decided it's time to go back to the nest box but she's still scoping Roger. The species is notorious for being wary. This is a great catch of a photo. Mom flies into the door but without brakes she'd smash into the back wall or squash the eggs so she ingeniously bends her rear half up turning it into a brake.
Coming out again but there seems to be a pesky pine bough poking at here door. She grabs it in her bill.

Tugs it.
And mouths it, but from the looks of things to little avail.
Checking, checking for predators.
Then the look about, and Roger gets a glare.

Looks okay, back into the pond.
Swim, swim...snack.
With a somewhat jaundiced eye always on Roger.

Anybody over there? Nope.
I just got word from Jackie Brown that sure enough, on Memorial Day, the hen popped out followed by 20, that's right TWENTY ducklings. They swam around a few minutes, then Mom got them corraled on the verge about the time some deer showed up and startled them. So off they went to the woods every darn one of them and they won't be seen again until next year. I'm hoping Roge got photos that he'll send along.

From Chicago’s Ken Zommer—

I head this story on the show Here & Now on WBEZ (NPR) yesterday (6/1/10) and wondered if you knew any of them,(because, you know, don’t all hawk watchers know each other?)?

Right. It's only within the last few years that the hawkwatchers in Manhattan and the other boroughs even got to know each other by email to any great extent. Too much time spent in the field. Though whenever we find out about a new pair in a new city, it's a big YEA!!!

Particularly as it has been another rather dreadful hawk season in Manhattan.

So thanks much!

The Red-taile
d Hawks outside of an office building in Cambridge, Ma.
(Ernie Sarro)

A family of Red-tailed Hawks have built a nest atop an office building along a busy four lane road outside Boston. Robin Young stopped by Monday as a crowd of bird watchers checked in on the family- parents Buzz, Ruby and their young- Lucky, Lucy and Larry. Larry took his first flight yesterday morning, but later in the afternoon slammed into the glass side of a building, though he’s now reportedly doing alright.

• Read: The latest on Larry the hawk
• More from Medford Wildlife Watch

>From Karen Anne Kolling of the Gonzo Deck--

Third and fourth whooping cranes ever born in the wild to the reintroduced Eastern migratory population birds trained to migrate via ultralight below.

(The first chick is in the current migratory population, the second was lost to predation. One and two were chicks of the First Family, the Mom of which was shot in the last migration.
These are chicks of a different pair. Great news after that terrible year.) scroll down to twins.

Donegal Browne

Monday, May 31, 2010

Stella at the Cathedral and the Compatible Tom Turkeys

Photo by Stella Hamilton
Long, long, long time hawkwatcher Stella Hamilton is back and took a trip uptown to see how the Divine's eyass on the Cathedral Nest was doing. When it comes to flapping at this age there is no place better than St. Andrew's hand.

Photo by Stella Hamilton
She looks at the camera and the camera finds her looking alert and well fed.

Photo by Stella Hamilton
More flapping and hopping! The next step, and often the place where the first flight is started, is the top of St. Andrew's head.
Photo by Roger Brown
A Tom Turkey decked out in his brilliantly colored Spring best. I must say that unfeathered folds of skin in pinks and purple and aqua look ever so much more attractive to us and to the hens obviously than plain ole usual colored skin.

Photo by Roger Brown
Jackie and Roger Brown live a couple hours north of Milton in the woods. They have a large corn feeder on a timer which automatically spews corn each day and therefore have seen many flocks of turkeys going about their daily Spring business.

Photo by Roger Brown
But this year something rather unusual happened with a pair of Toms.
Often in Spring the Toms will come out into an open area to display for the hens. And the Toms are not only displaying for the hens they are also competing with each other aggressively about who is biggest and strongest. Fights are not unknown and it isn't unusual for one of the Toms to retreat from the field after these aggressive competitive displays.

Photo by Roger Brown
But this year two Toms appeared who appeared to be buddies. Walking around together even seemingly synchronizing their displays.

Photo by Roger Brown
Strutting together.

Photo by Roger Brown
Switching who went first. Really quite amazing with all that testosterone flowing.

Photo by Roger Brown
And hitting peak display at the same time. No fighting over hens. Everything was perfectly balanced--until a third cock appeared. A mixer as it turned out and suddenly all three were fighting each other.

One aggressor and suddenly everyone is at war. Suddenly the pie is too small. Balance is a fragile thing.

Photo by Jackie Brown
And then there is temptation. The plant on the table obviously looks particularly tasty but is it safe? Note the pulled back ears.
Photo by Jackie Brown
Perhaps it is wiser to nibble the grasses further from the humans as certain appetites can prove dangerous later in the year.
Donegal Browne

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cowbirds, Chipping Sparrows, Jay and Kay in Tulsa, and Blakeman on Red-tail Eyass Death

Photo by Donna Browne
Two Cowbird Eggs in a Chipping Sparrow Nest-

In the "row" of three eggs on the right, the top and bottom eggs are those of a Cowbird.

Interestingly the eggs photograph with more of a different hue than they appear in life. I had to scrutinize carefully to decide that two were actually different enough in size to be positive the nest was a victim of brood parasitism which seems obvious in the photograph

Year after year the Chipping Sparrows in my Wisconsin neighborhood are parasitized by Cowbirds. Four years ago, there were three pairs of Chipping Sparrows in my and the neighbor's adjoining yards. All three nests were parasitized. For the past two years there has only been one pair of Chipping Sparrows in the area. I became concerned about the parasitism in my own area and also because the Chipping Sparrows I'd watched in the yards of relatives had disappeared altogether.

Chipping Sparrows were previously considered quite common here but with the increase of the Cowbird's range, human depredation of habitat has expanded the Cowbird's range exponentially to the point where the U.S. Park Service is beginning to be quite concerned about their impact on many species not just the uncommon ones.

In fact, in Yellowstone Park, rangers have begun checking nests for Cowbird eggs. When Cowbird eggs are detected the rangers pick the Cowbird eggs out of the nests, shake them vigorously, hoping to addle them so that they don't hatch, and then place them back in the nest. Evidently, disposing of them may sometimes encourage Cowbirds to lay new eggs in those nests.

As we're always talking about how most birds can't count when it comes to eggs, chicks, and the like, (it's also possible that they ordinarily don't care if an extra eyass or duckling for example shows up), then how do Cowbirds know they should lay more eggs? That their eggs are gone?

Do they recognize their own eggs as a species? Is it a spatial recognition of the nest size and brood mother? Whatever the case it appears they know.

Last year I was surprised (And happy, I admit.) that the Chippies weren't raising a Cowbird instead of the there own chicks. I later was told that a neighbor, unnamed, had found the Chipping Sparrow nest, saw a Cowbird egg in it, and removed it. Evidently in that case no Cowbird noticed and laid a new egg or eggs to replace the missing one.

Well this year, I walked past the Clematis on the north side of the house and a little bird flew out and whipped past me. Then it happened again. Aha! A Chipping Sparrow had zipped out. I investigated, and sure enough there was the little neat nest with five eggs, two of which were slightly different colored and the the big clue, two of the eggs were slightly larger than the other three.

Now I'm in a quandary. It is illegal to disturb bird's eggs, and ordinarily against my ethics not to let nature take it's course, except in cases of sick or injured birds for instance, but now I admit, I'm sorely tempted to addle a couple of eggs.

Next up John Blakeman on Eyass Death--


Here's the problem, with all of the nests and deaths, I think.

Your perspectives on each of these are tainted by your experiences with Pale Male and the other NYC RTs. In fact, eyass deaths are much more common than the urban nests (in former years) have experienced.

Still, each of these needs and has an explanation. For your rural Wisconsin birds, they mirror the ones I see here in northern Ohio. Pigeons are just never a part of rural red-tail diets. They are too hard to capture in barnyards. The rural birds depend on voles, which were common in pastures. But pastures are gone in Ohio, and ever more infrequent in Wisconsin, with modern dairy practices (or conversion to row-crop farming).

Dependence on voles will produce only one or two eyasses. In row-crop areas like southern WI and northern OH, the only vole habitats are grass margins of roadsides. Makes it tough to feed two or three eyasses when they get larger. I'd bet that starvation or starvation-induced disease is the cause of the eyass deaths. Starvation-induced parasitism can be a factor, with capillaria or other gastrointestinal worms overwhelming the bird.

The presumption that 80 or 90% of the hatched eyasses just ought to fledge isn't realistic. That happens only when everything is perfect, as it once was at 927 Fifth Ave and now, for a second year, at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

But the death of eyasses is rather common in nests with more than one eyass. I've never seen a northern Ohio RT nest with three eyasses. There's just not enough food to support these. The average is about 1.7 eyasses. I think a lot of nests have two eggs, but deaths of the weaker eyass bring down the number at fledging.

It's a lot tougher to raise eyasses than shown by PM and the other famous urban nests. Urban areas have both rats and pigeons (non-native species, as it happens) that provide ample prey. Vole-based red-tail populations have it much tougher, as you are seeing.

This contrasts with Western red-tails, where ample ground squirrel populations in the first half of the summer provide large prey bases. Western nests average between two the three eyasses. But eyass survival difficulties are simply postponed until after fledging, as all of the Western ground squirrel species go into estivation, summer hibernation, during the mid- and late-summer drought periods of these areas. Instead of starving on the nests, as in the East and Midwest, Western eyasses starve after they fledge, being unable to find the now-estivating ground squirrels. They have to turn to voles, which can be hard to capture in the taller herbaceous vegetation of summer.
Weather has no effect on frounce frequency. It's always frounce weather in the windpipes of pigeons. Exposure to cold and rain seems to have no real effects. The down of the eyasses just keeps them warm, even when wet.

And the Riverside nest looked to be a winner, I thought. I was rooting for it, as it was the only typical tree nest in the area. The birds were behaving as real red-tails should. But 70-mile per hour wind bursts can blow out any stick nest.

--John Blakeman

Thanks John, you make a very good point. Not all that many calories in a vole. Gotta nab lots of them. Whereas a pigeon or a chubby rat is a much larger chunk of food with far more calories with a single hunt.

I've still never seen a Mourning Dove go into a nest here. They are much quicker than a pigeon so perhaps just harder for Red-tails to predate.

The M pair were able to raise their two eyasses last season but they not only had the verges of the road to hunt they also had the verges of the railroad tracks on the far side of the field they nested in.

I also saw them feed the eyasses a snake at one point, so skilled and adaptive, and though I never saw bunny go to the nest, last year was a very good year for rabbits here. I rarely could tell exactly what they had as they were secretive and of the prey was small so often voles or little rodents of whatever description.

The summer before, I used to watch one RTH in particular, hunting in a mature cornfield by following the rows at tassel top when I'd drive by, though I never saw an actual kill.

I was concerned when I watched the Cathedral nest this season that Norman wasn't bringing in as much food as was delivered in previous years. If that was actually the case, starvation may have had a hand in the smallest eyass death in particular. Isolde spent far more time off the nest than she had in previous years so some of us surmised she was hunting for herself. She may eventually have taken prey to the nest as well but I don't know of a confirmed observation of that so far.


Word from Sally of Kentucky on the Tulsa cell tower nest of Kay and Jay plus the Portland Fire Escape nest--
Kay and Jay of Tulsa have their one eyass busy branching on the cell tower, and so far Portland still has two healthy-appearing eyasses ready to fledge soon, they have been "branching" to the railings and other areas of the fire escape the past few days.

Photo by Donna Browne
This evening I got a call that the moon had risen more reddish gold then usual though at the time it was likely too low on the horizon for me to see from Rainbow Drive. I went out to reconnoiter and discovered a thin place in the trees and so got a photograph of a "vegetative moon".

Donegal Browne