Saturday, March 02, 2013

Prologue: NYC Hawkwatcher Katherine Herzog on Pale Male and Octavia's Behavior from February 27-March 1, 2013 MUCH MORE TO COME FROM TODAY! STAY TUNED!!

 Photo courtesy of
Octavia on the 927 nest on February 27, 2013

First a missive from longtime NYC Hawkwatcher Katherine Herzog in regards to the behavior of Octavia uptown and my  hypothesis that reverse sexual dimorphism is a product of female Red-tails fighting each other for the males in a similar way that many mammal males fight each other for the females

(For details on the hypothesis see the post below The Flash of earlier today.)

 Katherine Herzog's email sent before she and Stella Hamilton's adventures uptown watching Pale Male's nest and downtown watching the area around The Plaza.

I can only report what I've observed for the past three days, Feb 27 through Mar 1st....Pale Male and Octavia behaving like the consummate couple...flying together, sharing food, mating, sitting together, visiting the 5th Avenue nest together - rearranging the "furniture" and bringing in additional nesting material.  Their bond seems to be very strong.

I am impressed with Octavia's size and wing-span...sometimes when I see her flying she looks as big as a Turkey Vulture!

I don't know but it would not surprise me if the larger female RTHs choose their mates and not the other way around.  If this is so, perhaps they are the Alpha mate in the pairing hierarchy....which would give her authority and preference as to who she mates with....Pale Male, another mate, or possibly, alternating between both. 

 Of course, she would have to settle on one nest to lay and brood her offspring and the Plaza nest looks to be barely a nest (more like a pile from a "Pick Up Sticks" children's game!). 

Given all of Pale Male's experience and apparent good health... I have faith in our old friend to keep his cool and win over the (possibly) flirty female.

Won't be able to follow the Plaza goings will have to depend on other people's observations. 

 [Stella Hamilton took on the duties of downtown observer today.  And Kat took over observation of 927 Fifth Avenue, uptown. D.B.]

As the Zen master said "we'll see".

Katherine Herzog 

 But while you're waiting... another urban Mallard Mom gets human help escorting she and her ducklings through part of Washington DC to water.
Photo courtesy of Harald Olsen
Donegal Browne 


Stella Hamilton and Katherine Herzog, both NYC Hawkwatchers of long standing, took my suggestion and Kat stayed uptown in view of Pale Male's 927 nest and Stella went downtown to watch the area around The Plaza.

I'm still making sense of my notes, but one big discovery is  that there are a Red-tailed Hawk pair (identity currently not nailed down) busily taking twigs in and out from behind a cornice/facade, nest building on  "The Gold Building" a block from the Plaza. 


Is Octavia Practicing Polyandry? This Weekend is the Time to Find Out!

 Octavia, left and Pale Male, full face, right 
 courtesy of

 Relevant musings concerning just who is copulating with whom in Central Park, just in from long time NYC hawkwatcher Katherine Herzog, who, by the way, has a very conveniently  located dentist for a hawkwatcher--

 The only good aspect to visiting my dentist is that he has a prime location for viewing The Hallet Nature sanctuary, corner of 59th and Fifth Avenue from the 14th Floor. Last week while waiting, a mature Red-Tailed Hawk carrying nesting material appeared flying close to the large picture immediate thought was....could that be Pale Male and why is he so far south of his territory? Couldn't give a definite ID as it was raining and the color on the hawk was a bit darker than Pale's.

Then I saw the picture on the internet which has caused so much head-scratching: a bird looking very, very much like Octavia was seen with this "Plaza hawk".

Red-tailed hawks are supposed to be monogamous - but there are other observed hawks, like the Harris Hawk in the SW USA that are
polyandrous (one female copulates with more than one male). Could this be a case of polyandry? Maybe Octavia taking out a little insurance with a younger, stronger male but sticking with the more mature, more experienced mate with a fabulous nest? Was the "Plaza male" possibly Pale?

Yesterday, Pale Male seemed to be bringing prepared food for Octavia and they were flying around the nest the entire hour (4 - 5pm) that I was there...looking ever like the happy couple. Very interesting start to the nesting season.

Katherine Herzog

Great to hear from you Kat, thank you for your astute musings-and yes it is an interesting start to the Fifth Avenue season.

Could this be a case of polyandry?  

Of course it could as you knowJust because it isn't in the Red-tail literature doesn't mean it doesn't happen.  We've observed many examples of Red-tail behavior that hadn't been recorded in print until the hawkwatchers of Central Park observed it.

I remember when I first began watching there was no documentation even that Red-tailed Hawks drank water in the wild.

Also a point Ohio Red-tail expert John Blakeman made regarding observation of  polyandry in Red-tails generally and in this possible example in particular, very few Red-tails are banded so it is very difficult even with all the lenses in Central Park focused on these famous hawks it is still nearly impossible to prove who is who categorically.  

Therefore polyandry may occasionally occur and no one has suspected it,  let alone proved it.  Right?

If Octavia is actually copulating with two males, you could be right that it's insurance, but I don't know a way to prove it.

Maybe she's a "party girl".  (The phrase is a joke but you know what I mean.) There is aberration of known behavior in many species when you begin looking at specific individuals.  And Red-tails do have very adaptive individualistic behavior in many areas of their lives why not this one in this area?


 I've held the theory for some time that the reason for sexual dimorphism in raptors, the female being larger than the male, is because it is the females who fight each other for the male as opposed to what we much more often see, the males fighting over the females in which case the males are larger.

This could also explain something I've been hard pressed to figure out if there is polyandry going on in this case.  But perhaps if we add my theory and put into play my theory of reverse sexual dimorphism and its explanation perhaps there is an answer.

My question.

If Octavia is copulating with the Plaza Male, and it isn't Pale Male down south, why isn't he bombing down there and cleaning the Plaza Male's clock?

Author of Red-tails in Love, Marie Winn, pointed out to me while I was very green, that pairs are in constant visual contact with each other at this time of year.  And from my own experience I would say that to be true as well.

This is where my reverse sexual dimorphism/females fight females for males, and not the other way around, comes into play.

Also I believe there was a young female Red-tail in the area that Octavia trounced.  She therefore won her right to both males and now she gets to choose.

Positing that Octavia is actually practicing polyandry, Pale Male sees what she is doing-- but remember females fight females for males, he doesn't start any fisticuffs, he just finds more ways to persuade her to choose him instead of the other guy.  More of her favorite foods as gifts.  More renovations on the nest and reminding her of the great location.  More keeping her company, copulating, and doing whatever else may win him the damsel. 

Here is my suggestion for you and Stella Hamilton, (or the more eyes the merrier in both spots), this weekend.  Have your cell phones charged. 

One of you goes down to the Plaza and watches and the other hangs near the Fifth Avenue nest and watches.  The minute one of you sees Octavia and a male you call the other.  If say you see Pale Male uptown and Stella sees Octavia and a male downtown or vice versa, we'll know that polyandry is in progress.  

We'll know categorically that the Plaza Male is not Pale Male. Also that the downtown nest is not Pale Male and Octavia's second choice nest of this season and yes, oh ho, there are two males in play for one female.

I can't wait to see what happens next!

Happy Hawking!

Donegal Browne.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Call From the Hawk Bench-Pale Male and Octavia

Photo courtesy of  At 4:44 PM Eastern, my phone rang.   It was an excited long time Pale Male watcher Stella Hamilton on the line, standing with two other long  time watchers, Katherine Herzog and Marsha at the Hawkbench.  Pale Male and Octavia were both on the 927 Fifth Avenue nest at the same time!

While later in the season both Pale Male and his mate are often seen together on the nest switching egg incubation duties or Pale will drop by with a tempting dinner for his mate while she sits, it really doesn't happen nearly as often at this point in the season before there are eggs to tend. 

And the hawkwatchers were out in force today, back to their old stomping grounds seeing with their own eyes that Pale Male was indeed not only not missing, he and Octavia were thinking nest!

Every year, Pale Male not only presents the 927 Fifth Avenue nest as an option to his mate, he also presents  a secondary, or other option nest. Some believe that the evergreen bough or boughs on a Red-tail nest are the sign that that particular location has been chosen as THE ONE.  Others think that the evergreen twigs are a Red-tail insecticide. could be both.

 Speaking of second option nests, according to Stella, no one even now has yet discovered where Pale Male's  second option nest is this year...unless it is after all the scant nest downtown on The Plaza.  (Stella is planning to try and sort out the possible Plaza issue come Saturday.)

As to when the new mate of this season Octavia, will overnight on the nest is anyone's guess but it will likely be soon.  Lola tended to overnight a week into March give or take a few days depending on the season.

And today brought another rarity.  Look back up at the top photo.  Pale Male and Octavia have just finished copulating in the tree and they are both perched facing the same direction. 

 Red-tailed Hawks will often sit next to each other companionably after copulation.   But they will face in opposite directions, I assume because a set of opposite eyes in two directions is better to scan the territory for invaders or even personal assailants. 

Not today.  They both are taking the same view.

Another grand thing about the both-face-the-same-way photo is the rare opportunity to compare their relative heights, coloration in this light,  and the shape and size of the heads of a teircel and a formel Red-tailed Hawk.   

There is a difference.  

As wonderful photographer Francois Portmann always says, "The females just look hawkier."

And they do.

Note the size and shape of Octavia's beak in comparion to  Pale Male's. It is longer and more pointed.

Also very telling is the different cranium shape of their heads.
Look at the difference in the angle of their brows.

And for the first time in a while, Pale Male has a mate who isn't the least light eyed according to report.  That means she's likely over 4 years old and has had nesting experience before.

It will be fascinating to see how this new pairing will or will not change some of Pale Male's old habits.

Pale Male loves sitting on eggs.  A characteristic of more experienced and more mature Red-tail dads, I'm told.  Pale has on any number of occasions had to be poked by his mate to get him off the eggs so she could take over again.  

Another supposed habit of mature experienced dads is the feeding of eyasses.   Tristan, mate of Isolde, on the nest at the Cathedral Church of St. John, always brought the prey plus  did the last feeding of the day.  This gave Isolde a break on an adjacent rooftop in the open air as opposed to still more time being squashed behind St. Andrew's elbow with a number of eyasses that got bigger everyday.

Pale Male always brings a bounty of prey to his nest, and as Lola preferred the prey be prepared before arrival, he often did that too.  But when it came to tearing bites off and poking them into little beaks, he doesn't.  Or I should say more correctly that that behavior hasn't been documented in Pale Male  at this point as far as I know.  

Maybe this will be the year?  

 Photo courtesy of
Pale Male finishes Octavia's dinner.  He's also wearing one of his signature concerned but focused expressions.  

At least in this frame Pale Male's belly band appears darker than it has for awhile.  Some years it is hardly discernible at all in some lights.

By the way, one of the ways to solve the what-male-is-downtown conundrum is for two cell phone toting hawkwatchers, one uptown and one downtown, calling each other whenever a mature male is spotted in their particular area.  If both are looking at a mature male in their respective nest areas, particularly if  he is cavorting with Octavia, we are on our way to knowing Octavia may be a bigamist.  If the male or males are never seen at the same time, it could be a fluke, but it does give at least some credence that they are the same bird.


Donegal Browne

A Wednesday Miscellany-HawkCam of Big Red and Ezra Redtail, John Blakeman, and If Animals Would Eat Fast Food!

 Photo Donegal Browne
Back when the nest was much smaller Pale Male considers renovations.

 As there is no hawk cam to watch as yet from Washington Square Park, the Cornell Lab has a nice one of the nest of Big Red and Ezra.


Check out "Red-tails in Love" author Marie Winn's Nature News posting for February 20th, concerning a letter she received from a gentleman who had a  Red-tail standing on his  car roof staring at him as he opened the door and got in.  And John Blakeman's response as to why the hawk might just be acting in that manner.

In from Samantha of Brandeis--
If Animals Would Eat Fast Food
(I found this very funny.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pale Male Puts On a Show at the Hawk Bench, Tweaking the Franklin Nest, and Silver Chews Styrofoam

Pale Male Photo courtesy of

We were talking recently on the blog about the amazing difference the light of any given day has on a hawk's feathers. 

 A grand example is this photo of Pale Male from Sunday identified as such by the photographer.   His famous paleness isn't apparent at all.  
Speaking of Pale Male and Sunday--
 From long time Hawk Watcher Stella Hamilton, 

Dear Donna, 

I was in Central Park this past Sunday, and saw Pale Male a lot.

 I was in fact very excited to watch him dive for something in the bushes right next to the Hawkbench!

 Pale Male is a marvel.  He isn't bothered a bit by familiar watchers when he's hot on the trail of prey.
From Jackie of Oklahoma-  
The Franklin Hawks do some nest tweaking.

Photo courtesy of  Kevin Vaughan.

Photo courtesy of  KevinVaughan .

 Photo courtesy of  Kevin Vaughan.

And last but not least The Animals on the Home Front Report--

Silver chews a Styrofoam peanut (which he isn't supposed to have) and the static electricity of the friction make the bits cling to his beak.  He stops for a full minute looking deep in thought.  Note Squirrel the Kitten biding his time in the up left corner.

A moment later, Squirrel zipped up and with a quick flick of his paw, stole  the peanut.  Silver watched the action and then went back to "thinking".
In the meantime, Pyewackit is the latest in a long line of my companion animals who, when the packing of suitcases appears to foretell a trip, crawl into the suitcase as if they don't want to be forgotten.

Yes, she's a cat and cats often cozy into places.  But in this case I'd been living out of a suitcase for nearly three months and she only got into it on the day of departure. 

Donegal Browne 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Does Pale Male Have His Secondary Nest Down at The Plaza or is Octavia a Bigamist or Is She Making Do Because of the Reproductive Imperative? ???

Photo courtesy of
Octavia, the eighth mate of Pale Male

Hawkwatcher Roger_Paw writes that, though she has a small  kernel of doubt, she's pretty sure that Octavia is mating with the male down at The Plaza Apartments.  

Then the question becomes is the male hanging out at The Plaza actually Pale Male or another hawk who just looks a bit like him?

As Ben Cacace spoke great truth when he said, "Never underestimate a Red-tail!", we should never say never when it comes to Red-tailed Hawk behavior.

Is it possible that Octavia is copulating with two different males?  Just about any behavior may be possible with Red-tailed Hawks.  They are very individualistic and they are adaptive thinkers.  

If so, a good question becomes as bonded pairs are almost always in visual contact with each other during mating season, where is Pale Male during all this?

I've found no cases in the literature of female bigamy, but as we all know, NYC hawkwatchers see all sorts of behavior that isn't in the literature. 

And there are cases on record of a male Red-tail, taking two mates at the same time and providing for both females and two batches of eyasses at the same time.  

So far I've not found a female who copulates with two males but it doesn't mean it hasn't happened. 

That said, let us remember that Pale Male always offers his mate an alternative to 927 Fifth Avenue and  give some thought to where Pale Male has strewn a few twigs this year.

We've often chronicled this behavior in past years but as far as I know no one has yet discovered any alternate sites for 927 this season.


 Each year Pale Male offers his mate a secondary nest site, and sometimes even a third, just in case she's silly enough not to take the premier location at 927 Fifth Avenue.  So far she's always chosen 927 since it has been offered.

Pale Male often offered Lola an alternative nest site on The Beresford, where they both tended to spend the earlier part of each day.  He'd bring a few twigs and hang out in that spot early in the day, then later they'd both move to the east side and hang around that area, including 927.

Is it not possible that the this year's temporary nest, that spot typically with just a few strewn twigs, is on The Plaza?

I commend Roger_Paw for finding a current ID mark for Octavia.

I agree that that particular female downtown is Octavia.

During nesting season a big part of identification has to do with location though many may not admit it.  

And the light on a hawk's feathers as any hawkwatcher will tell you changes the color and depth of color of those feathers drastically at times. 

Could Octavia be two-timing Pale Male.  Of course she could be.

Could the Plaza Male and Pale Male be the same bird or a different bird?   Both are possible until we find a defining mark which doesn't appear on both.  

Or secondarily, a rather a terrible thought, when is the last time that Pale Male was definitively spotted? 

 Is he missing?  

 That would fully explain Octavia's copulation with a different hawk if that is the case.  The biological imperative to propagate takes over at this time of year.

Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to Hawk Season 2013.

Stay tuned.  Let us hope it is not another season filled with grief.

Donegal Browne