Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fifth Avenue Red-tail Fledgling Adventures in Central Park

 Stalwart hawkwatcher Jeff Johnson was again out on Thursday (below) and also Friday (coming soon) tracking down Pale Male and company.  Photographs and the commentary in italics are Mr. Johnson's.

 Pale Male was on his 927 Nest as I approached the Park.

 From the 5th Avenue wall along the Park I could see two fledges perched in one of their favorite trees. North end of the Model Sailboat Pond invisible in the background to give some location perspective.

The north end of the Model Boat Pond is the section that holds the Alice in Wonderland Statue with the Oreo Building and Stovepipe as a back drop.

If you are attempting to follow the action with the aid of a Central Park map, what we call the Model Boat Pond will be labeled as The Conservatory Water.  The water is there but they neglected to actually build The Conservatory.

After entering the Park I spent a half hour looking for Pale Male or Zena without success, so I returned to the Sailboat Pond area and found a fledge high in a tree (just right of center in this frame).

She's quite tiny in this shot but if you look carefully you will see a tiny pale beige oval with a belly band slightly behind a branch that veers up and right.  This is a good exercise to train your eye for the next time you're out fledgling hunting.

This fledge is shown a little closer in the same spot here.

 I searched again up to 79th Street where Pale Male was soaring, but he decided to stay too far away for my lens. On the way back to the Kerbs Cafe area there was a fledge now dining on a rat! 

The Cafe is across the water from the Hawkbench and slightly to the north.  On both sides and behind it is a non-pathed area of trees, understory, mulch and some plantings.  Few people tromp around in the plantings there,  so it is a safer place for the fledglings to go about their business than more heavily traveled areas.

Two fledges were developing their hunting skills in some low brush behind the Cafe.

Note the pedestrians and the west edge of the Model Boat Pond in the background.  This is the opposite edge of the water across from the hawkbench.

And you can bet 99% of the people walking by have no idea the fledglings are even there. 

If you were standing at the camera's POV, your back would be roughly over Central Park's stone wall perimeter, directly across the street from the 927 Fifth Avenue  nest.
 One fledge was particularly taken with attacking an orange capped plastic bottle.

One of the most endearing and I have to say hilarious behaviors of fledgling Red-tails, as some of you know,  is their practice "killing" of various objects which include but are not limited to plastic bottles, rocks, chunks of wood, thick twigs, and in one case I know of, a rather large athletic shoe.  

The Fledgling leaps on the object with both feet, "the strike", then bangs it soundly and repeatedly on the ground with both feet while hop flapping.  I assume that's "the kill" though adult Red-tails don't bang their prey, they neatly puncture it with their talons to kill it. 

I surmise the innate urge to whack prey on a hard surface gets the job done initially until they figure out that squeezing with their talons is really what it is all about.

Mr. Johnson's Friday adventures with the Fifth Avenue Hawks are coming very soon!

Happy Hawking--
Donegal Browne

Friday, June 29, 2012

Johnson Pale Male Updates, Franklin Institute Near Miss Landings, and Squirrel Freeze Mode

 Photograph courtesy of Scott Kemper
And a head's up from grand gleaner of Wildlife News, Robin of Illinois, scroll down the blog, link below, for some delightful pictures of near miss landings at the Franklin Institute--

 Photo by Jeff Johnson
 Pale Male and Zena's fledge and its late day meal. You can see a Blue Jay above her scolding and possibly about to make a fly-by strike at her head which is taking some of her attention.
 Photo by Jeff Johnson
And Mr. Jay is not about to leave anytime soon. The juvenile has been presented with unprepared pigeon she's having to figure out how to deal with besides.  Life is just one thing after another for a young Red-tailed Hawk.
  Photo by Jeff Johnson, plus following commentary
 Late this afternoon I saw Pale Male hunting along 5th Avenue and 79th just as I walked into the Model Sailboat Pond near the Hawkbench, so I decided to proceed north thinking to catch some frames of his activity. Pale Male had gone to perch on his favorite antenna so I returned to the Sailboat Pond where I encountered a fledge in one of the trees beside the Kerbs Cafe area (north). I'm calling it Fledge 1 because it's the first I spotted today. Look at how full the crop is…I never saw any parental interaction today or meals left, but clearly such is happening.
 Photo and commentary by Jeff Johnson
 Pale Male began a little more soaring over 79th Street and Zena had magically appeared on her 927 Nest watching Pale Male's efforts (she was peering in his direction anyway).  Scanning from Zena to look at Pale Male I happened upon Fledge 2 in a tree just to the right and back  of Fledge 1.
 Photo and commentary by Jeff Johnson
 Now I have a distant view of both parents and two fledges within 100 feet of each other. They seem to really like this stand of trees. Moving in behind the tree where Fledge 2 is I try for a frame with them both in it just to present some scale and proof of identity. As I move around to do this naturally Fledge 2 moves along into another branch forcing me to move deeper into the brush near the wall along 5th Avenue. It's a poor frame but if you look at the upper right and lower left corners, Fledge 2 and 1 are in the same frame.
  Photo and commentary by Jeff Johnson

 Just as I began thinking about differing angles something plopped on the sleeve of my jacket !!! Fledge 3 was saying Hello from directly above me.
  Photo and commentary by Jeff Johnson

All three fledges were in the same copse of trees !!!  Three Red Tails within 100 feet and being paid next to no attention by Blue Jays or any other birds.
Fledge 3 moved to a lower branch on a tree alongside the wall at 5th Avenue and I wasn't able to get a frame with the trio together. Fledge 3's Hello was about the size of a Silver Dollar and looked like pancake mix. A tissue wiped most of it away on scene. Just for interest I included a frame I shot after I got home. I prefer to think of it as a greeting, since I might not have seen him/her otherwise…but maybe the fledge didn't like my jacket or decided it needed to be sent to the dry cleaners!
Jeff has fallen prey to one the good news/bad news aspects of juvenile Red-tail Hawk hunting.  You've been alerted to a Red-tails presence but you've a green and white splotch on your clothes. Often much larger than the spot above, by the way.  
Machine wash hawking apparel recommended as it frees up more funds for subway fare and equipment. :)
  Photo and commentary by Jeff Johnson

 I included a frame of a squirrel lying flat along a narrow branch with its tail curled over itself. It didn't appear unhealthy, in fact it was a plump specimen. It made no attempt to do anything except move its eyes ti watch everything I was doing. What behavior is this ?

This squirrel is absolutely fine.  She has just taken the stance of a squirrel who has discovered she is in too close a proximity to multiple hawks.

Squirrels are quite cheeky and will scold or even take on a juvenile hawk or even  an adult for cause. 

 Yes, squirrels can tell the difference between an adult and a juvenile as can the Blue Jays, Catbirds, Robins and all other birds who enjoy mobbing raptors.

When dealing with a single hawk all the squirrel has to do is scurry from the top of a branch to the bottom or round the trunk of a tree to the other side to elude the hawk.  Experienced squirrels know to stick to the trees and not try a scamper across the ground where they'll be an easy dinner for an experienced raptor.

The squirrel in question has realized that she has been caught  in an area where multiple hawks might cooperate to nab her.  Scampering to the other side of a tree trunk doesn't work very well if there is a second hawk on the other side.

(Whatever the Red-tailed literature may say, Red-tails do hunt in tandem on occasion and the squirrels know it.)

Therefore she has gone into squirrel freeze mode.  She has flattened herself on the branch and laid her tail over her back, which changes her silhouette.  Lack of movement of course reduces the likelihood of pulling the hawk's focus to herself.  I've not decided whether the squirrel has just found itself on an exposed branch in these cases or whether it is a choice to give her a 360 degree range of vision.

It is also possible that the laid tail above the body, beyond camouflage  might have a tendency to fool a hawk into closing her talons early in a strike, causing her to grasp more tail than more important squirrel parts.

Always helpful Ohio raptor expert John Blakeman filled me in on a terrific fact about squirrels which helps explain why though Red-tails find them very tasty, they don't eat more of them.  

The factoid?  A squirrel's hide is extremely tough and a Red-tail must strike them just right in order to bag them. 

An inefficient strike can lead to a miss which wastes energy or worse from the hawk's point of view may result in a nasty squirrel bite which is an uncomfortable injury with the possibility of infection.

Plus a squirrel is quite strong and agile particularly for lighter weight males who need to have even nearer to perfect technique to be successful.   Pale Male being the not only the Monarch of Central Park but the Sultan of Stealth is a terrific squirrel hunter and has courted many a female with meaty squirrel meals.

And yes, while in this behavior only the squirrel's eyes will move to follow the action, which in this case included you.

Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne

Updates Later Today

Sorry Folks, my internet connection has been down.  It's now back and I'll soon have some Pale Male and Co. updates coming your way!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Pale Male Report and Why Do the Play Patterns of Young Squirrels and Young Nuthatches Look So Similar?

 Photo courtesy of

Pale Male, the ever diligent Dad, with a pigeon, Columba livia, which will help feed his family for the day.

Today's Pale Male Report, from longtime correspondent and now blog contributor Jeff Johnson--

Ms Browne,

Two fledges were in the Park on Cedar Hill just north of the Sailboat Pond at 1800 today. [6:00PM, D.B.] I got a few frames of one with a whopping big meal.

I'd not seen any interaction with either of the parents, but it's difficult to believe that the fledge caught it. It would be master hunting skills developed overnight !

From the size and tail feathers I think it was a Rock Pigeon.

Just behind the fledgling you can see a Blue Jay about to hassle him/her. Blue Jays and Sparrows were really giving the fledgling fits. Their harassment was dedicated and persistent so that the fledgling dropped the meal onto the walkway underneath its perch after about fifteen minutes.

When bystanders couldn't be persuaded to stand away, Lincoln Karim picked the fledgling's meal up and moved it to a more remote spot where it would retrieve it.

 I had to depart scene before the fledge reclaimed its meal, but I'm sure it happened.


Many thanks Jeff, we can't wait to see the photos!

 Next up, like many of you I've been watching juvenile passerines come to my feeders for years and though I've often seen adult White-breasted Nuthatches feeding, not until today have I observed the juveniles attempting to figure out how to access sunflower seeds from the wire feeder.

Initially I was so fascinated by the antics I didn't even go grab my camera for fear of missing something.

Young Nuthatch was climbing up and down the feeder in the manner he'd use a tree-- up, down, poke, poke.  Forget those handy dandy perches.  Then he'd stick his beak in and instead of pulling the seed out and then eating it, he was attempting to shell it and swallow with his bill still inside the feeder.

Then to add insult to injury, another juvenile, typical of sibling squirrels, jumped out of the air at the original one and they both took off for the high branches of the adjacent Maple.  

Where they each took a place about a foot apart on a branch and continued the game of Jump At The Sibling.  Sibling 1 jumps in the air at Sibling 2 who veers off and and then jumps back at Sibling 1 who jumps back.  Very similar to the antics of young squirrels.  Interesting.

After that sequence, they then chased each other up and down the trunk of the tree.  Also very squirrel-like.  Weird to have young mammals and young birds playing such a similar "game".

Then it struck me.  Not strange at all!  Both species spend a great deal of their lives rapidly perambulating  up and down on the bark of trees often with their heads in the lead.

Similar activity in species,  even those who are two footed with wings and those with four feet and no wings in different branches of the animal kingdom, can lead to similar "play" in their young.


You just never know when you'll discover that what  may seem odd in the beginning, ultimately turns out to make perfect sense once you, attend to it and don't discount the similarity just because the creatures are in different man made categories .

But we knew that.  Sometimes we just have to be reminded yet again that attending can fill our lives with wonder.

Donegal Browne

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pale Male and Zena's Fledgling Assisted by Lincoln Karim, Doorstep Dove and Friends New Youngsters, Plus Isolde and Norman's Fledglings in Morningside Park

                    Photo by Jeffrey Johnson
Jeffrey Johnson, a contributor to the blog whom I met at the Wild New York City Symposium has a piece on author and original Pale Male watcher Marie Winn's Website about Lincoln and one of the Fifth Avenue fledglings.

Doorstep Dove and Friend as I reported earlier have fledged three youngsters in this clutch.  Not extremely rare for Mourning Doves to lay three eggs but two eggs per clutch is the far more common number.

Here are photos of the two more mature fledglings.  The third who came off the nest slightly less mature is spending more time hiding in cover then flying except when she absolutely has to.  The other two tend to perch in sight, so we'll wait for a photo of number 3.

When I accidentally  flushed two of  Doorstep's Trio out of the garden, One took off toward the old TV antenna.

Two lifted off from the garden and came down on the short log wall that borders the yard's boundary from the park, about 12 feet away from me.  She looked at me and I at her.  She then bobbed her head at me and I bobbed back. We went back and forth  much as her mother had originally done as a first year bird though she was older as it was winter and she snuggled up to my patio door when it was cold.

  How old is Doorstep now?  I do believe we've been bobbing at each other for six years now.   

Perhaps this little dove will continue the tradition.

Photo by Rob Schmunk

And what about Isolde and Stormin' Norman's fledglings up at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine? 

 Needless to say, young Red-tails aren't the least bit popular with their bird neighbors, ever.  In  fact bird's scolding is a common way for watchers to find raptor fledglings but somehow the bird neighbors in Morningside Park have always seemed the loudest and most raucous when it comes to giving young Red-tails a piece of their mind   Check out Rob Schmunk's blog--

Even Paranoids Have Enemies


Happy Hawking

Donegal Browne

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pale Male and Zena, Osprey Cam Action, Doorstep Dove is FOUND, and Canada Goose Alert!

 Photo courtesy of http//
One of Pale Male and Zena's fledglings, watches for "prey", which includes rocks and twigs at this age, from behind a leaf.  Good thing, she's still getting the real thing from her parents.  Look at that bulging crop! 

Having raptor cam withdrawal in those spare moments in between updates,  now that most Red-tail eyasses have turned into fledglings?

Here is one I just discovered today.  AND as I've never watched Ospreys in the field, the learning curve is fascinating plus I have questions, questions, questions...!/live-cams/player/live-osprey-cam
That's vigilant mom on the left and there are three eyasses napping in the bowl of the nest.
Dad shows up with a still flopping fish.

Mom gets fish and stops the flopping.  Dad keeps an eye peeled.
Mom pulls the fish up onto her handy dandy staging area/orange netting and starts working on the fish.  The eyasses begin to show some signs of life.
 Mom begins to feed and as the eyasses become more active it is apparent that ospreys have asynchronistic hatching.  The is a rather large size variation compared to Red-tails who's young most often hatch in a day of each other.  In this case they come in large, medium, and small.  Interestingly though Large and Medium were first up to be fed, before long Small managed to tumble Large back somehow in a scramble and got an even share.  Spunk counts.  Dad keeps watch.

Then dad is off as feeding continues.  Note Large is to the right of the perpendicular stick.  Medium is center above Small.  And Small, with the lighter feathers and open beak is about to get the next bite.

Here is one of my questions.  See the square item?  Follow  the perpendicular stick from the bottom of the photo up.  That looks like a rock but it appears to be placed on top of other nesting material.  I don't know that Ospreys carry rocks to their nest and in any case it would appear to be too heavy for them even if they did.  Perhaps a remnant of Styrofoam?

Next up Robin of Illinois also had a pair of mallards visit her feeder. Here's a recap--

About 5 years ago I had a mallard pair come to my yard and gardens, two years in a row. They would come in late April and come daily, and then disappear in mid-May. The second year, in early May, we had a tornado 1/4 mile from my house, and I've not seen the pair since. I hope they fled the area in advance of the storm. The second year a juvenile was often seen accompanying them. The first year, another male tried to steal Mrs Mallard away, and the males duked/dueled it out on the wide park-like area behind my house. I watched with bated breath and great fascination. By the way, the home team won.

I wasn't the only one who was fascinated and delighted with them. Neighbors would watch out their windows, slow their cars as they passed my yard if the ducks were in it, and sometimes sneak around in the bushes furtively to watch them as well.

Doorstep Mourning Dove finally appears again!

I admit it. I was worried.  Yes I know it's nesting season and hens have to stick to the nest pretty closely but I hadn't seen Doorstep for weeks and weeks.  Then the other day, after I'd seen a clutch of three newly fledged Mourning Doves being herded into the Big Nest by Friend and then I saw Friend, Doorstep's mate sitting on the bird bath watching the sunset without her--  I really got worried.  Yes she'd likely be laying a new clutch but ordinarily she helps Friend for a day or two with the youngsters before beginning to sit again.

Then I looked out on the feeding floor and saw a petite Mourning Dove with a slight ruffle to her posterior feathers pecking away.  Poor thing she's practically sleeping on her feet.

She heard the camera and looked up completely aware.  I bobbed my head.  She bobbed back...  It IS her!!!!  Alive and well.
 And then she went back to eating with her eyes at half mast.  Raising a threesome can really take it out of a girl. 

Once again this year Canada Geese will be rounded up in New York City's Parks and killed.  The USDA chooses this time of year because Canadian Geese are at their most vulnerable.  They are in molt, often flightless, and have goslings.    Beyond planned protests, Goose Watch needs you to help document these activities.