Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sadie the African Grey Parrot Keeps Her Buddy Jim From Having Psycotic Episodes....Do Parrots Count as Service Animals? Maybe, Maybe Not

 Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images, for The New York Time  
 Sadie talks Jim Eggers down when he’s on the verge of a psychotic episode.

 Listen to Sadie, Jim, and Dr. Pepperberg at Radiolab

 A 2009 Controversy Which Continues 
What is the definition of a disability animal?
Do psychiatric disorders count? 
Who decides which species gets to go where? 

Article in the New York Times

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Francois Portmann's Thompson's Square Park Red-tails Report plus What Other Formel Does Octavia Look Like?

Photograph courtesy of Francois Portmann
                               Sunday Morning

Just in from Francois Portmann, a  gorgeous shot of the Thompkin's Square Park Red-tails. 
(I just love it when the tiercel stares fixedly at the eggs.)

Francois reports that the female is on the left.  And as a field mark for Dora, take note that one of her center tail feathers is so pale as to be almost white.

Chris is on the right,  is smaller of course, and lighter colored.  In comparison to the formel, at least in this shot, he looks like he might be one of the quick males like Pale Male or Pale Male Jr.

 Francois reports:

There is a  storm right now in the tri-state, heavy rain, wind gusts in the 30+ knots and dropping to freezing temp overnite, tough time on the nest... 

 Keep your fingers crossed for them and for all the other nesting birds as well For those who have nests near by, you may want to check in on them tomorrow morning just in case someone needs help.  It sounds like the kind of night where gusts could cause a building collision and a possible broken wing.

 Photo courtesy of
Do you think that Octavia looks similar in some ways to another formel in NYC?  Not so much her coloring perhaps but her head structure and, well ....her eyes in particular.

Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What Does A Brood Patch Look Like? Of Brood Patches and Cloacal Protuberances Plus Francois Portmann's Thompkins Square Nest Cam Pix

Photo courtesy of

Yes ladies and gentlemen, we are metaphorically looking up Octavia's skirts and having a rare glimpse of her brood patch.  The bottom of the patch is quite obvious but scan right, over the side layer of  white feathers which ordinarily mask the area from the side when she isn't using it to warm the eggs.  The brood patch widens as it goes up and then comes back in again.

Why do hawks develop brood patches?  

Feathers are really warm right?  

Well yes they are warm for the wearer as they keep the heat in and the cold out.  To brood though, heat must be allowed to get out and to the eggs or eyasses.  Hence the bald patch.

Not only does a formel loose the down feathers in the brood patch area, but the area also becomes highly vascularized, filled with blood vessels..  And last but not least the patch becomes edematous.  Fluid collects under the skin as well as having the naked  spot and the increased blood flow. 

 Rather, I suppose like an internal hot water bottle on the wing.

Speaking of "on the wing" there are also other adaptations thought to be present to reduce reproductive weight.  In almost all avian species the right ovary is permanently vestigial.  (Why the right ovary, and not the left?) And the left ovary in the off season is small and only takes on heft during the reproductive season. 

Plus of course the lightness advantage of  laying eggs instead carrying around developing young inside is more aerodynamically friendly as well.

Tiercels also have modifications which we mammals don't have.  

As we know sperm keels over and becomes ineffective if it gets too warm.  Exactly the reason why male mammals carry their sperm for the most part outside their main trunk in a pouch.

(And why human males who wear tight underwear can have more trouble being fertile than guys who wear free and easy boxer shorts.)

But lets face it,  hanging testicles just are not aerodynamic and they'd look pretty silly bobbling around in flight anyway.

 Testicles in hawks lay tiny and dormant deep inside them in the off season.

Come reproductive season the hormones surge and their testicles can increase 200 t0 300 times their off season size. 

In fact a sexually active duck's testes can comprise 10% of  his weight.  Good thing they are mostly on the inside.... walking could even become problematical. 
 Think of that ratio in a human.  Say if a human guy weighed 200 pounds his testicles would weigh 20 pounds.

Now there's a mental image.  Good grief.

Fine you say, but whatever size the bird testicle is, it is still inside therefore the sperm is still going to be too warm to do their jobs.

Not so.

Enter the swollen cloacal protuberance.  

Many male birds develop a swelling around the opening of their cloacae.  In some cases the shape of the swelling looks a bit like a teeny volcano.  And the cloacal protuberance contains  part of the vas deferens which stores mature sperm who must be a little cooler to remain viable while waiting to go into action.

Some avian species also have a circle of feathers around the cloacal opening which during copulation,  (the cloacal "kiss") help the sperm get to the female's cloaca where they can do some good.

And last but not least in some cases in sexually monomorphic species during breeding season, one can identify the sex of the bird by looking for a cloacal protuberance.  A brood patch can also be used but do remember in some species the guys get them too.

 Photo by Francois Portmann
 The Thompkins Square pair, Christo and Dora on the nest with three eggs!

A photo by Murray Head of a Palm Warbler in Central Park courtesy of  Marie Winn's Central Park Nature News

I love the expression on his face.

 Though now that I've written the above material on swollen protuberant cloaci, I can't help looking between his legs.

Geez.... even if he had one I wouldn't be able to see it from here. 

Happy Hawking
Donegal Browne

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pale Male's Nest and the Red-tailed Hawk Nest in Central Park's Sheep Meadow--Offspring Are Allowed to Nest in Closer Proximity

Photo courtesy of

This is one of a pair of Red-tailed Hawks that has built a nest in a tree by Central Park's Sheep Meadow.  

The most prevalent common thought about this pair is that they are the hawks  who previously attempted to nest in the neighborhood of Central Park South, which is the street that borders the southern end of Central Park

Which brings up two questions a number of people who have contacted me have asked:

Where is Sheep Meadow? 

And how far is Sheep Meadow from Pale Male's Nest?

Time for a map of Central Park...
Starting at the bottom left (West)  of the park, cruise up (North) and hit the 65th St Transverse Rd.  Just above where those words are written on the map you'll see Sheep Meadow notated.  

(Tidbit 1: Sheep Meadow originally included a flock of sheep and a shepherd from 1884 to 1934.  During that time they were housed in a Victorian folly which in 1934 was turned into Tavern on the Green.)

Sheep Meadow in Central Park
Photograph courtesy of The Central Park Conservancy
 Sheep Meadow, between 66th and 69th Streets, is open from mid-April through Mid-November.  

Very soon the nesting hawks will have more company than they currently do. And the fact that during the summer, Sheep Meadow can be far more crowded than the above photograph reflects has some hawkwatchers concerned. 

Though as Sheep Meadow pair are obviously urban hawks or they wouldn't be there in the first place and the newest research has found that young hawks have a tendency to return to their natal territory to nest, one at least of the Sheep Meadow Red-tails could well be progeny of Pale Male and Lola or as the southern territory was altogether open,  Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte.  

(Though if Jr. was Pale Male's son as suspected, still related.)

By the way, I never saw Pale Male and Lola have very hostile interactions with Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte, which may be a clue to a relationship.

And as Pale Male and Octavia are allowing the new pair to nest so closely to the Fifth Avenue nest it may be a clue to a relationship there as well.

Some years ago before the research came out about the tolerance of offspring coming back to natal territory at breeding age to nest, one day during nesting season with eyasses on the nest, Pale Male and Lola were both on the nest when a third Red-tail landed on the roof of 927 Fifth Avenue just above them  and  looked down at everyone. (This was not a menacing posture at all.)  Pale Male was up there like a shot, but instead of screaming at the "interloper" and  knocking  him off the roof  for trespassing all Pale did was land on the roof about a foot from him and make an angry body posture.  The hawk stranger took on an OH, SORRY, kind of   look and zipped off.   Neither Pale Male or Lola screamed or chased him with blood lust in their eyes which is what happens if a stranger hawk even crosses the far borders of the territory ordinarily in natal season. 

After Pale's trip up to the roof, I can remember long time hawkwatcher Stella Hamilton and I just looking at each other with that kind of,  WOW, what just happened kind of look on our faces.   At the time, we talked about the fact that the intruder hawk acted like he just wanted to look at the nest.  No hostile body position, more like when Pale Male looks down from a tree at a person he knows and likes.  The only thing we could come up with that might explain the behavior, far fetched as it seemed, was that the third hawk may have fledged from that nest.  

Which some, no doubt, would have scolded us for anthropomorphizing, at the time.  As it turns out perhaps we weren't necessarily all that far wrong. 

If you happen to be in Sheep Meadow and want to see this nest, as tree nests are somewhat more vulnerable than building nests, and "which tree" is harder to explain than a building address,  a tree nest's  general location only, tends to be published,  look for someone with binoculars and they will very likely be able to direct you to the correct tree.

 Now onward Ladies and Gentlemen, move right (East) and up (North) and look for the ovoid blue shape on the map which is notated as the Conservatory Pond.  Some older maps label it as the Conservatory Waters but most patrons of  Central Park just call it the Model Boat PondAnd that is what you should call it too if you ask for directions, as most patrons of the park don't know its name of record.

(Tidbit 2:  The Central Park Conservatory was never built but periodically there will be regattas of beautiful little model sail boats, including a wee pirate ship with grog barrels, racing in the pond so you can see how the name morphed as it did.)

As we all know, Pale Male's nest is on Fifth Avenue, the right (East) border of Central Park and 74th Street. The street nearest to the center of the Model Boat Pond if it ran into the park that is, is 74th.  Or if you would rather figure it for yourself,  go down to the 65th St. Transverse and count up.

For those of you interested in computing distances the crosstown blocks or Big Blocks, as they are called,  are four to a mile.  The Little Blocks, uptown/downtown blocks, are twenty to a mile. 

These nests are not all that far apart at all, now are they?  

Tra La! Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne