Saturday, January 29, 2011

Nest Nook With Landing Perch Without the Visual

Well folks, there should be an image of the new improved Nest Nook with the nifty landing perch on it right here where I'm typing. But for whatever reason Blogger feels that it is in an unrecognizable format. Sigh. I'm working on it.

In the meantime here is what hawk expert and the designer of the nest nook, John Blakeman has to say--


Attached is a design for a $10 landing pole attachment that will work for both Nest Nook designs, for the one on the wall, and the one attached to a ledge. It's two automotive hose clamps and 3-ft piece of treated 2x2 wood.

--John Blakeman

The Nest Nook can be made of any durable material. The only stuff that can be easily worked and fabricated is metal, which will not present an egg cooling problem, inasmuch as the Nook has no protruding spikes. The nest sticks and lining will sit in and on top of the metal fabric (screening). There is no need whatsoever for "insulation." The nests up in trees are fully exposed on all sides to winds.
Yes, it will be good to learn of the dimensions of the ledge the sticks are on presently. How wide (right and left) is it? How deep (front to back) is it?
--John Blakeman

Sorry, John. I'm hoping to get the information soon, and when I do I'll whip it your way asap.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Crow Tricks-Chris, Carol, and Chris Crow Jr.

It' s late afternoon and Chris and Carol Crow perch in a spot I've never seen them use before. Are they sunbathing? Sentinel perches? But why so low?

Earlier while it was snowing, I looked out and Chris was scrutinizing the offerings on the Goodie Stump.

And he looked at the buffet for some minutes. This was the first time hestayed for any length of time when he was aware I was watching.

What he's currently looking at is snow covered chicken.

It's interesting. I also see Chris Jr. on the stump but rarely if ever see Carol on top of it. Her niche seems to be foraging around the bottom of the stump, walking around in the snow across the yard, and all the time she's keeping an eye on the boys and then she'll snitch what the other two have cached.

Perhaps Chris is attempting to figure the best angle to attack the chicken so that a frozen bit will actually break off. He gives it a bite. The day before he'd been carefully picking the small bits of red pepper out of the frozen noodles and
eating them.

Suddenly he looks around.

He steps on top of the chicken while holding a bit in his mouth. Still looking.

Chris Jr. flies in. Having come in so that Chris has had retreat to the other side of the chicken. Junior prods the chicken.

Chris gets back up on the chicken, Junior is still prodding the chicken, and then it appears Chris spits a piece of chicken back out. Something wrong with it?

The next thing I know Junior has given up on chicken after the spitting incident and is having a bit of cherry, as is Chris. Note Chris appears to be smiling. Nothing hostile, just an example of Crow tricks or is it Crow humor?

Perhaps Junior was just playing along because when Chris looks away, Junior grabs a chunk of chicken and flies away with it.

Chris continues to eat.

Then one foot possessively on the chicken Chris stares at me.

And he keeps doing it for several minutes and then-- he flies away.

Now we've come full circle back to Chris and Carol perched on the back log fence. She looks back at me.

Then she gently looks west. (Compare the side view of her beak with that of Chris' above. It is decidedly slimmer.) She doesn't appear to have the hyper energy of the other two. But when I look down at the camera for just a second and then look back up- she's gone. I start turning the scope towards Chris.
And just as I get there, he's OFF.

Donna Browne

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Lower Eastside Hawks Make the News Plus John Blakeman on the Nest Nook for the Washington Square Pair, and a Cooper's Rescue

Photo by Francois Portmann
Monday, Valkyrie of Tompkins Square Park gives Francois the eye.

Francois said, "She's eating leftovers that were stashed under the snow."
(Very clever. Snow not only hides her food but keeps it fresh.

After finishing her meal, she stands as Francois says, "...looking cute and cuddly."

Wildlife Rehabilitator Cathy Horvath with the Red-tailed Hawk juvenile who spent weeks down an airshaft before being rescued.

Lower Eastside Hawks in the News

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

EAST VILLAGE — The East Village is becoming hot real estate for a new class of upwardly mobile New Yorkers who love the neighborhood's abundant dining options — red-tailed hawks.

The recent rescue of a young hawk from an East Village building, as well as numerous sightings of the birds throughout the neighborhood, has convinced experts that the area has become a popular destination for the beloved raptors.

"Every year, the population is growing and growing," said Bobby Horvath, a Long Island-based wildlife rehabilitator, who helped rescue a fledgling red-tail hawk that got stuck in a building's air shaft on East 3rd Street earlier this month.

In the last month alone, Horvath has swooped in to save another hawk that became trapped inside the New York Times building, and yet another that got caught in an air shaft on the Upper East Side.

"It's in indicative of an increase in population," Horvath added. "The sheer number of calls that we're receiving shows that their numbers are just growing by leaps and bounds."

With its well-documented rat problem and plenty of pigeons, the East Village provides a smorgasbord for the hawks, experts said.

Green spaces like Tompkins Square Park, where red-tailed hawks have been seen regularly for years, offer even more in the way of meals due their the natural wildlife.

"To me it seems that there are even more birds this winter," said Francois Portmann, a photographer and East Village resident who started documenting hawks after observing them in Central and Tompkins Square Parks. "It looks like they're busy again [searching for mates] right now."

About three years ago, a nest of red-tailed hawks showed up on top of an air-conditioning unit on East Houston Street. Horvath was summoned there after the hatchlings fell onto the street below.

More recently, he took in a red-tail found injured in Stuyvesant Square Park, which neighbors said is a regular haunt for the hawks.

Because it's extremely difficult to tell by sight if any or all of these hawks are related, neither Horvath nor Portmann could say for sure where they hail from.

But Horvath does believe the trend could be attributed to the birds simply becoming more comfortable in the urban environment.

"If you look up any day," he said, "you can find (a hawk) in the city easier than you can on Long Island these days."

In fact, neighborhoods like the East Village may provide even better opportunities for the hawks — only about a quarter of which survive their first year — because of the wealth of food options. Horvath explained that hawks are expected to hunt for themselves once out of the nest, meaning that rat-ridden streets are sometimes their best option.

However, rodent poison and pigeon bacteria can severely hurt the birds, so it's hard to say whether city streets are just as habitable as rural areas, Portmann added. Birdwatchers mourned the loss of the beloved Upper East Side red-tailed hawk, Lola, who partnered with Pale Male for nine years, after she went missing in December.

"The problem with the urban situation is they sometimes build [nests] on ledges that have no anchors for the nest," he said, referencing the situation with the hawks on East Houston Street.

Nonetheless, Portmann has seen hawks everywhere from the Marble Cemetery on East 2nd Street to Seward Park on the Lower East Side to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.

Read more:

The 2008 Tompkins Square Pair, who eventually moved on, possibly within the neighborhood, after failing to complete a tree nest in the park.

Note how dark both these hawks are. Note the coloration of Valkyrie and the photo of the tiercel of the 1 Fifth Avenue pair that tops the next post down. Is there a Downtown Dark Hawk Dynasty developing? Just as there were quite a number of Pale Hawks uptown.

The Washington Square Park Pair have begun a nest on a window ledge adjacent to the park. There is some concern that as there is likely nothing to anchor the twigs to and that the nest will likely not hold together in storms. We wondered if it might not be a good place for a trial of John Blakeman's Nest Nook. Here is what John had to say as the hawks have already started building their nest.

If the Nest Nook is placed on a wide ledge, as the nest structure at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, there is no need for any protruding landing or fledging poles (the things I will be added to the Nest Nook design).

If the hawks can land and walk out onto a 2- or 3-ft of adjacent ledge, all works well. This exactly parallels the hundreds of Red-tail nests on Western cliffs. And this worked perfectly for the Philadelphia eyasses last year, once again.

So if the ledge is wide, not just a narrow window sill, the Nook will be entirely sufficient.

And if a Nook were quickly built and placed on the ledge, right where the sticks are being placed, the hawks would INSTANTLY take it up if the sticks were placed in the bowl of the Nest Nook. The hawks would think they put them there, and would then go on to complete the enter nest.

John A. Blakeman


All is well, thanks to ingenuity and a couple of starlings:

Best wishes,
Jackie Dover, in Oklahoma

Donna Browne

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Washington Square Pair Are Building a Nest

Photo by Francois Portmann-
The 1 Fifth Avenue Tiercel from last season. Possibly one of the pair currently building a nest on a window ledge of a building off Washington Square Park.

Myisha Priest who hosted the Wild NYC Symposium at the Galatin School at New York University sent me an email with the news that the Washington Square Red-tailed Hawk pair are working on a building nest adjacent to Washington Square Park.

I asked professional photographer and intrepid hawkwatcher Francois Portmann to nip over and take a look. This is what he had to say--

I went for a quick visit to Washington Square Park

If this pair tries nesting there [on a window ledge D.B.], my bet is: the nest may get blown off in high winds. These window sills have no anchor options. It’s the same kind of set up as last year on One 5th ave!
Time for the
Blakeman "Nest Nooks"!!

The Red-tail pair, possibly the same birds who are building the above nest, who last season may have nested on One Fifth Avenue, had no anchors for their nest and it disintegrated. They did not succeed.

That was also part of the problem for Charlotte and Pale Male Jr. for most of the years they nested on the corbel of the Trump Parc or when they attempted to nest on the bare top of air conditioners. They just could not keep their nesting materials from blowing away.

Some years ago, Red-tail specialist John Blakeman designed structures to help urban Red-tails with this problem. One model could be attached to a tree, and the other could be attached to a building.

Since then we've watched more urban nests that have had early fledges in which fledglings who had no branching opportunities to get themselves off the ground once they left the nest early, i.e. they were not flighted enough to gain elevation for flight once grounded, were found standing on the sidewalk or had fallen off nests without enough or adequate places for them to do their pre-flight exercises, they came off early, and they were injured from hitting the sidewalk or ground.

We realized that the original Nest Nook for buildings might not have enough space for hopping and flapping or enough opportunities for branching practice so John Blakeman has gone back to the drawing board.

He is working on a new improved design for the Nest Nook which includes more space for just these things. We're hoping he'll have it done very soon particularly as it looks like Manhattan has Red-tails, who are trying to nest but their options for a nest site are not the best.

Of course finding someone willing to host a trial for the Nest Nook could well be easier said than done.

Here is the link for the previous design of the Nest Nook.

As soon as Mr. Blakeman finishes the new improved design for the New Improved Nest Nook I'll post that as well.

Therefore if you, or any one you know might be in a position to help host a Nest Nook trial for a Red-tail pair please get in touch. Currently Washington Square's pair could possibly use one and/or if we put one up adjacent to Tompkins Square Park, Valkyrie/Dominatrix might be able to attract a mate and they could nest in her current territory.

Donegal Browne

P.S. As breeding season is hard upon us, perhaps the Tree Nest Nook could be installed in Washington Square Park itself as a secondary option for the birds to use if the ledge nest fails and they decide to double clutch. Or it's possible that the old stand- by option from the original 927 Fifth Avenue nest might work for the Washington Square pair's window ledge if it could be installed soon enough. Originally on 927, and it worked wonderfully for many years, was a number of rows of anti-pigeon spikes anchored to a piece of wood which was in turn anchored to the facade. In the Washington Square Park site the anti-pigeon spikes anchored to wood could be anchored to the window ledge and the twigs the hawks have already brought placed back on the contraption for them to re-work to their satisfaction. This would have to be placed before eggs were laid. Or leave well enough alone and see if the site doesn't work before we make any human "improvements" beyond that we'd need to check to make sure that the hawks weren't working on a principle site elsewhere and the window ledge is only an alternate site.

Monday, January 24, 2011

John Blakeman on the Odd Buteo, Two Opossums in One Night and Opossum Tracks in the Snow

Yesterday's Odd Buteo

Ohio Red-tail Hawk expert, John Blakeman adds his expertise to the conversation-


The hawk in question is a partially leucistic Red-tailed Hawk, apparently still in its first year, as revealed by the very slightly elongated tail (Red-tail tail feathers lose a half-inch in the first molt). It’s not a Rough-legged Hawk, as the shape and wing patterning is all wrong for that species. All the other suspect buteos would be much darker. This is a Red-tail.

Leucisticism seems to develop incrementally in subsequent molts. The light coloring of the primaries of both wings is a typical pattern. In following molts, more and more feathers will come down white, often with streaks or patches of normal color, but distorted in shape. For example, when the whiteness appears in the red tail, the greater portions of the retrices (tail feathers) will be white, but often with a distorted, angled dark terminal band; or with white splashing at an angle across the partially-red feather.

It appears that leucisticism, which is not so uncommon in Red-tails, is expressed somewhat in the manner of gray hairs in humans, with age. I estimate it’s prevalence between one in 1000 to one in 5000, with the greater frequency more likely.

In this case, this an apparently young bird, with just the first hints of whiteness.

I trapped and studied an old, very wary formel (female) haggard Red-tail in 1970, and watched (before it was released) two molts. The bird got whiter each time. Before being trapped, she was the mother of a normally-colored tiercel (male) eyass that she and her normal mate successfully fledged.

Albinism or leucisticism is known in the other North American buteos, but it is very rare in those species. Just why the Red-tail has, and expresses these genes so frequently is a ponderable raptor biology question. I have no answers for it. The best explanation is that it would provide some hunting or survival advantage in snow. But if that were so, the trait would be seen much more frequently in northern birds. But that’s not necessarily so.

–John Blakeman

Thank you John, very interesting. The idea of albinism in Wisconsin being an adaptive advantage with all it's snow, makes sense, and it is the capital of Albinism in many species. There are quite a number of white deer here for instance. Though I understand some still have dark eyes so technically they're only partially albinistic. But you're right, if that is the case in RTHs why isn't albinism more prevalent in the north for that species?

Another mystery. :-) And another question to be filed in the mind waiting for the day something happens that might help answer it


7:12pm I looked out and WOW there's a possum right there on the step. The back story: I'd cleaned out the refrigerator and transferred the old food, but not too old food, all into a serving bowl that I was going to pour out on the goodie stump for the crows. I then left it on a counter while I went to another room.

In the meantime Quicksilver the African Grey Parrot had flown over and was helping himself. Greys have somewhat delicate digestion at times so I didn't figure even slightly old food was a good idea, being in the middle of something else, I took the bowl away from him much to his chagrin, (Don't worry he gets plenty to eat, but stealing food he is not supposed to have always makes it yummier), I opened the patio door, and put the bowl on the step to take to the stump later on when I had my snow boots on.

I forgot it. Thus attracting the opossum who as I watch starts wobbling the bowl around with his paw very vigorously. Bam, bam. The bowl is actually clunking on the concrete. OH NO! That bowl goes to a set of my mother's china that my youngest daughter is supposed to get. Beyond clunking on the concrete the bowl is very dangerously close to the edge of the step. That's a smash waiting to happen.

And even sending tidbits flying.

7:13pm Back to the bowl.

Is that bowl going to go over the edge? It looks like more than half is already sitting on air.

Here is a good view of the possum's back foot. Note the big difference with the front feet in the second possum photo above and the back foot in this photo.

By the way, the black blotch at the bottom of the photos is the cat Pyewackit's ear.

7:14pm Now you can tell it is the top of a cat's head. Pye waits for the opossum to reappear. He doesn't, so Pye wanders down to the basement hoping for an unenlightened mouse that has weaseled its way into the house.

Periodically she spends most of the hours of a couple days down there. Then suddenly she's back upstairs returning to her usual behavior. I believe she realizes there is a mouse in the basement, goes into mouser mode, eventually catches it, obviously eats it all as I never find any mouse bits, and then having done her duty or simply followed her irresistible instinct for obtaining a rodent meal-your choice, and then goes back to napping cat of sloth snoozing on the furniture until another mouse appears.

But back to those possums...

Several hours pass.

7:16pm Silver curious as to what everyone is looking at, flies down to take a look- flushing Pyewackit the Cat under the dining room table. The possum takes no notice as sight isn't their forte as a species. Note that Silver, having spotted the weird animal out there, has fluffed up his feathers into aggression mode. It makes him look bigger and he hopes scarier.

11:01pm She is following her nose to the bowl.

Possum circles round and while jockeying for a better angle, I accidentally bump the glass. Possum must have heard or felt the vibration as she freezes in place waiting to sense if anything else will happen, allowing me to get a slightly better photo of her in the dark.

She backs out.

Then she comes round the other side. 11 o'clock possum finishes up the food meant for the Goodie Stump. And Yea! The bowl is unscathed.

What about Possum prints? The front foot print is shaped like a long varigated toed paw but the back foot has a elongated print with a jog at the back with shorter toes which might appear strange until you know what it is. In case you're slightly confused by which way the animal is going, the back foot prints are going one way and the front prints the other.

The long trough in the snow is the print of the opossum's naked tail dragging behind her in the snow.

Donegal Browne

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pale Male's Mates-the Eye Color of Ginger and Lola and Which Buteo Are the Crows Chasing in the Backyard

Photo by Francois Portmann
Ginger, Pale Male's New Girl

From Sally of Kentucky--

Hi Donna.

I was looking back at pics from 2002 trying to figure out if we know if Lola was an older bird or a pale-eyed bird when she joined Pale Male? In most of the pictures it looks to me that she has more rusty/chocolate light in her eyes, not the bright pale eyes that Ginger has, so I wonder if we even know how old she was? She could have been older than Pale for all we know...Just curious since you've been around the hawk bench and know people, do we know if she was an older adult when she arrived?

Thanks! Sally

Hi Sally,

Good question. Though do keep in mind that some Bench Lore like mythology has evolved from the bare facts and I've no way of knowing which parts have evolved away from what may have been the original facts over the years. Though I suspect the dates have not evolved and are literal.

It’s my understanding from what I've been told at the Hawk Bench, that young Lola appeared in 2002, and was thought to have been hatched in 1999 by the color of her eyes. She was considered a three year old hawk. Therefore she was originally called Lolita after the novel of the same name as at three, she wasn't considered quite mature as she wasn't 4 years old as yet. And as Pale Male having first been sighted in Central Park as a brown-tail in 1991 was the older "man" the book came to some people's mind.

This I think was the first instance of "The Naming Conflicts" which have haunted Manhattan's hawkwatchers to a lesser or greater degree ever since. Some people thought that the name Lolita was so disrespectful they couldn't bear it and there was a schism amongst the hawkwatchers at the Hawk Bench. (At some point later the name was shortened to Lola, possibly as a compromise.)

In fact one gentleman who is a wonderful observer and still watches raptors in other parts of Central Park has not returned to the Bench I'm told, at least in the daytime, for two decades because of how disrespectful the name Lolita was to him. He did rather magically appear one evening while Marie Winn, Lincoln Karim, I, and possibly another watcher were still at the Hawk Bench. It was one of my most informative nights sitting on the Bench as this astute Regular, along with Marie, were absolute founts of information about Pale Male's early night roosts and any number of other choice bits of information.

A bit of a tangent, just to say, that Pale Male and First Love were both very young hawks working on their first nests in 1992 and as John Blakeman has pointed out is often the case, a pair in which both are inexperienced often have a year or two of unsuccessful nests before they get everything right. And such was the case with Pale Male and First love. They built a nest on the backstop of one of the ball fields and the eggs fell out and smashed on the ground. They then attempted to nest in a tree, and that is when they were mobbed by crows, both were injured, rescued, and taken to rehab.

When First Love had not returned in the Fall of that year Pale Male took Chocolate for a mate. Chocolate was an older hawk who was blind in one eye but she knew her stuff when it came to nesting. She showed Pale Male, (at this point some might also be considered disrespectful as they called him her "boy toy" as he was young and inexperienced), how successful nesting was done.

Therefore as Pale Male was lucky to have had Chocolate to show him the way, so were and are Lola and Ginger lucky to have had and have the very experienced Pale Male to teach them.

Now back to answer the original question, Lola as a three year old had darker eyes on her first sighting than the lighter eyes that Ginger has being she is only two years old, the age quoted for her by Red-tailed Hawk specialist John Blakeman.

As far as I know, Ginger is Pale Male's youngest mate to date. Though not as young as he was when he took up with First Love.

I hope that helps Sally.


This is now where we are taking up again. But first the preamble, earlier today I had looked out the door as I'd heard cawing and watched the Christopher Crow family mobbing a juvenile Cooper's Hawk. The hawk was just taking a dive into the human sized nest when I looked out. I got a great view of his tail as he heading down and I ran to grab my camera out of another room. When I got back there wasn't a bird in the back yard to be seen. And I'm talking not even a sparrow.

Later I heard the same kind of cawing and went again to the door. This time with my camera. And once again there were Christopher, Carol, and Junior but this time they were sitting in a tree to the left vocalizing.

But what were they talking about?

Christopher moved up with Carol and then suddenly a buteo I took to be a Red-tail headed from the left somewhere and flew across the yard to the Maple tree in the far rear.

She landed and looked back at the crows. Note her tail isn't visible but she seems to have the "backpack strapped" back of a Red-tail.

In actuality this was her size from my view. See her center near the right edge of the spruce?

She surveyed her surroundings. The crows didn't give chase.

She then decided to make a break for it. This is where things got a little weird. She has a patagial mark though a lighter one than usual, which is supposed to be seen only on Red-tails. Now look at her right wing. It looks to have a large white area on it. Red-tailed hawks don't have a white area there. Then again, Wisconsin is the world capital of albinism so perhaps that wings is albinistic in that area.

Is that a red tail? Not so one could tell it isn't.

Gosh on the down flap it turns out that it can be seen that the left wing matches the right when it comes to that white area.

By the time hawk gets across the yard, two of the crows have begun to give chase.

The crows do a few dives at the buteo.

They chase her further into the park and out of sight.

A little later Christopher does a fly-over. He appears to be checking that the area is still free of raptors.

The hawks are on the move. Driving down the highway I saw any number of Red-tails and also a mature Broad-winged Hawk on a pole by the road. The Broad-wing was certainly traveling through because there are no confirmed residents of that species in this county.

Was that hawk a Red-tail? If so what's with the white patches? Now a Rough-legged Hawk has white wing patches but it doesn't have a patagial mark and it's belly is quite dark as opposed to what appears to be a reasonably light belly with a faint belly band on this bird.


Slightly later I looked out and the the little birds were having a feeding frenzy at the feeders. With the raptors around they'd been taking the better part of valor and not exposing themselves. Now apparently gone, the Juncos, House Finches, Chickadees, and House Sparrows were on a feedng frenzy. and they were eating at levels that weren't their usual feeding heights. The Chickadees who ordinarily eat from the sunflower seed feeder were foraging under the glider as the House Finches and the Juncos, yes those normally never-leave-the-ground-to-feed-Juncos were vying with the House Finches for that feeder. And all of them having been kept from the feeders by the raptors were chowing down like there was no tomorrow. Though there wasn't a Mourning Dove in sight.

Later, after dark, I discovered five Mourning Doves feedng by the back porch light in the seed area, with Doorstep, Friend, and Buddy doing their pre-roost warming in the distance. That's where those photos near the top come in.
I've seen them at the bath that late in the day frequently. But eating in the dark? Nope.

Adapting to the day.

Donna Browne