Friday, November 15, 2013

Quicksilver the African Grey Parrot, Skittles the Candy, and Conan O'Brien Goes Birding in Central Park

Quicksilver  the African Grey Parrot gives me "The Look".

 "The Look" is usually preceded by Silver deciding that some action is required around the old homestead.  

The intensity of this "action" varies.

On the low end of action, the mood where is is a little bored and being mischievous, he tends to be out to surprise you.  For instance, he may follow you into the bathroom and give your bare toe a slight pinch while you're brushing your teeth.

  You are surprised. 

 And because you are surprised, you then make a little surprised sound and you jerk your foot back.  Silver finds this to be a total hoot.  He laughs while you tell him he shouldn't be on the  floor.  Number one, he may get stepped on,   and number two, pinching people isn't nice. 

Silver does not care.

On the high end of action, ordinarily when Silver is very hormonal or very angry, "the look" as he marches across the bed towards you, precedes a sudden leap at your hand, your telephone, or maybe even a scary plastic bag you're holding and an attempt to bite the crap out of it or you. 

Figuring that a lot of this when not just blind hormones was coming from boredom and or some kind of pent up parrot hostility, due to my bossing him around all the time--

Stay off the floor!  

Do not entice the cats to chase you!   

NO! Do not chew the furniture, the window sill, that DVD, my copy of Wild Birds Of America, that giant box of Tide, MY TELEPHONE, DO NOT POP THE BUTTONS OFF THE TV CLICKER...

You get the picture.   

Tangent Alert!  On one occasion when I fell asleep without meaning to in the middle of the day, neglecting therefore to put him in his cage for a nap before I drifted off,  Quicksilver mosied over to my computer keyboard and popped every single one of the tops off the keys.   

Try going on line and finding a diagram of your particular keyboard so you can put them back in the right places with nothing but a space bar.

Back to our story...

I figured Silver might enjoy something new.

Enter the Skittles.

I'd heard that some African Greys will do almost anything for a Skittle and Silver might even attempt to charm me to get one.

(Do understand I'm not talking lots of Skittles, just  one every now and then.)

Skittle Day 1

I allow Silver to see the bag.  He knows a candy bag when he sees on.  He grew up with children.

I dump a number of Skittles into my palm. I put my hand out for him to choose one.
 Silver looks at the Skittles and chooses a yellow (lemon flavor) with his beak.  But instead of transferring it to his foot and then taking bites the way he'd usually eats a holdable piece of people food, he keeps it in his beak and shells it like he would a seed.

Does he think it is a seed?  No.  He's thinking.  See the way his eyes aren't particularly focused on the outside world?

It does have a hard outer covering comparable to a husk.  Note the hard tiny bits of candy shell falling through the air.
But it's candy too.   He gives me a positive look and chews as fast as he possibly can.  (The reason his feet are in focus but his head isn't.)

He is very focused internally.  Note part of  his tongue is now touching a portion of  candy which is not covered by the dry candy shell.   More shell flakes off.
 As Alex the African Grey Parrot used to say, YUMMY!

 Okay, back up about 14 years.  When he and Samantha were both much younger.  When no one was looking one Christmas Sam would give Silver a piece of peppermint candy cane.  Dry, he didn't want it.  He wanted it from her mouth.  And would go over and start excavating around in her mouth gently with his beak if she was within range.

Eventually she fessed up and asked why that might be?

After thought and getting her to demonstrate the behavior, I posited that the reason Silver would always want to extricate a piece of hard candy from Sam's mouth but was  uninterested in the candy before it went into her mouth, was because being he has no saliva, he couldn't taste the sweetness without some moistening. 

I have no idea if this is true as I've no way to truly test it, but as a working hypothesis it was never disproved as anything that needed moistening in order to taste had to come out of people's mouths and Silver knew it and went for it.  

As to the skittles they are dry but they have an intense fruity smell.  And if you "open" them, they're moist.  Perhaps the aroma made the difference or perhaps he'd seen people eat them previously. ???

DAY 2  When presented with Skittles once again in my palm, Silver chose bright green, the new sour apple flavor  He started the shelling process, and immediately spit it out on the floor.  Then looked at me expectantly.


I gave him another pick. 

He then chose yellow again, the color and flavor he'd originally picked.  He shelled it, ate it and I got another positive look.

Day 3 and 4 he chose orange. 

Day 5 and 6 he picked red, strawberry.

Interesting pattern so far.  He finds a flavor he likes and then has it again after changing flavors after one lemeon.  Then for whatever reason after two takes he becomes adventurous and now tries a new color.

He never chose green again, and at least so far is totally uninterested in the dark purple, grape skittles.  Now whether he'd give them a shot if they were the only choice may be next up.

Now for something completely different and very funny...who says birders don't have a sense of humor?
A wonderful clip from 2005 featuring Conan O'Brien taking a walk with the late Starr Saphir and company, on one of her famous Central Park bird walks, unearthed by long time reader and contributor NYC Bill.

Plus, who knew the Swiss were such dreadful litterbugs?

Happy Hawking!

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pale Male's Nest and The Scaffolding- Glenn Phillips Exec. Director of NYC Audubon and John Blakeman on Red-tail Nest Loyalty

Photograph courtesy of
As most of you know,  Pale Male's long time nest building, 927 Fifth Avenue,  has scaffolding over the front of it as masonry work is being done currently. 
Building management did communicate with NYC Audubon about what time of year was best to do the work before it was scheduled.  And at least one longtime hawk watcher was then asked for an opinion as to what the least disruptive window for the hawks would be as well.
 From Glenn Phillips, Executive Director of NYC Audubon--
Hope all is well... just wanted to give you a heads up that 927 Fifth has started some facade work. They have been working with us to reduce impacts, and waited until this year's eyasses were fledged before starting, and they intend to finish work on the front of the building before the end of the year to avoid conflicts when PM and consort return to the nest... They have been very proactive and supportive, and should be congratulated for working to ensure the nest's safety. 

True, it would be dreadful if the facade suddenly fell off the building crashing our favorite pair of hawks and a nest full of eggs or eyasses onto the sidewalk.
That said, I don't believe that a catastrophe was about to happen but while biding our time and worrying about how the hawks feel about all this,  it might be slightly consoling to think that if there were a safety issue it would be discovered and fixed during this work. 
(Shhhh...Also keep in mind we've made life miserable for 927 before and we can do it again if necessary.  Which I'm pretty sure it won't be. They do NOT want all those "crazy hawkwatchers"  making a racket in front of  their house again now do they?  So take a deep breathe, let it out, relax those shoulders...and I'll let you know when it's time to start making the Honk for Hawks signs again.  I still have mine so I'm ready.)
 Numerous emails from readers and phone calls have come in  from hawkwatchers concerned not only about the duration of the work that's being done, and the scaffolding,  but also about all that netting on the building in which talons might be tangled. 

I agree the netting totally and utterly sucks.  
Here's the deal,  NYC has some extremely strict iron clad rules and codes concerning protection for pedestrians while masonry work is being done over their heads.  They have to make the area debris-tight while they work.  Hence the mandatory netting.
In fact compared to all the scaffolding, netting and who knows what all,  that was on my apartment building when the brick was being tuck pointed some years ago, this is less, thank goodness. 
 It will come down faster.

Which brings us to the very important factor--WHEN will it come down?

927 management has communicated to NYC Audubon that the scaffolding will come down on the front of the building before the first of the year.

Yes, we'd all be very much happier if it were down NOW as we worry that Pale Male is being upset, but here is a word from Red-tailed Hawk mavin, John Blakeman on the matter  Red-tails and their nests--
I just learned of the 927 fa├žade work. If the scaffolding is down by even 1 Feb, all should be well. First of January would be better. 
I'm not sure everyone understands the typically vagrant nature of RT nests. Pairs have  extreme fidelity to territories; those don't much vary from year to year (in location, at least; size, yes). But RTs commonly in rural areas simply abandon a perfect, oft-used nest and go off and build another a quarter-mile distant. For no good reason, other than apparently they really enjoy building nests in Jan and Feb. 
PM could start a nest at the Beresford any year, scaffolding notwithstanding.

John Blakeman

It's true.  The Beresford has always been Pale Male's second option to show his mate for her consideration for many a season. 
I think that particular choosing  behavior is wired in, and goes beyond just giving the formel a choice, (She is the boss during nesting season after all.), it is that the tiercel being the one who is constantly thinking of contingency plans as he's the guy on the wing while the formel is eating her way into egg-nancy, or on the nest  He's got to have a back up in his "pocket" just in case something happens to the first choice nest site.   
Pale has a back up.  Not the first choice for any season so far, but he is prepared.  Comforting that.
Something occurred to me earlier today, Pale Male, being an older hawk with literally decades of urban experience,  has seen scaffolding go up a thousand times and seen it come down just as often, all over the city.  
In fact,  he knows it always does come down eventually.
Red-tail Hawks are masters of patterns.  It is their hunting ace; it's how they make their living.  They watch the patterns and they remember them.
Of course I'd strongly prefer that Pale Male not be bothered in any way, but perhaps because of experience, and the fact he was first to choose this environment he knows the scoop and may not be as bothered as we might surmise.  Or even if he is bothered, he will do what it takes, as he always does,  yet again this season.
Besides  Pale Male is no dummy, he knows he's got all of us for back up.   
As we had he and Lola for back up while the protests went on back in 2004.  Many early evenings while we all protested, while we danced, sang, banged pans, whistled, held signs and egged on the honking cars of Fifth Avenue across from 927,  Pale Male and Lola sat in the trees behind us just beyond the wall biding their time at the edge of Central Park...backing us up.

And we'll bide our time as they did for a while longer yet too, as they go about their pre-season business.  Yes, we'll bide our time, we'll calmly pass by, we'll check out the netting, and we'll let the hawks see.... Not to worry, we're still around and we're still on the job.  You've got back up.
Happy Hawking,
Donegal Browne

My apologies to all for the lack of postings of late.  
Back in June, I was helping  a friend of mine from college days, Mark Scarborough, prize winning newspaperman, do the technical work on the photographs he was using for the book he was writing, EDGERTON, when without warning and while taking a break outside the paper talking to colleagues, he suddenly dropped to the ground.  And my oldest friend was just....gone.

I took up the task of  finishing off the loose ends for Mark's book and being in deep grief the loose ends have been far harder to tie up than I'd bargained for.
Once again my apologies.