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Monday, June 14, 2004

Van Cortlandt Park Red-tailed Hawks fledge

Here is a report that I just received from Chris L. in the Bronx:

Rob, a final follow-up---

Though the exact date of fledging will probably never be known, all three redtail chicks at the Van Cortlandt site had left their nest no later than Friday, June 11th, when the nest was found empty by Bill Valentine. Walking a short distance north, he saw one of the chicks in a tree, being harassed by bluejays.

During my June 13th breeding bird walk for the Linnaean Society, my group heard some of the young birds calling in the general vicinity of the nest, but we couldn't get a visual. On my next visit, I'll probably check underneath the nest tree for discarded prey remnants and such, something I have completely avoided doing while the nest was occupied, sticking to the official park trails around the tree.

The previous weekend, the eldest chick had still been on the nest tree, though he had climbed out of the nest onto a convenient limb--and returned quickly to the nest when his mother Jodie showed up with food.

Travis, the adult male, came rocketing out of a tree last week, and grabbed a chipmunk right off the ground about 40 feet front of us, then flew to a nearby perch, where we got a good look at the unfortunate mammal dangling from his talons. In the latter half of the nesting period, chipmunks seem to have become an increasingly important food source for the hawks, being very abundant in the immediate area. Perch-hunting seems to be Travis' favored method of nabbing them.

Both parents are obviously experienced birds, who have acquired considerable hunting prowess, which has allowed them to bring three young to the fledging point, in spite of their supply of available rock pigeons apparently drying up back in April. They simply switched to less substantial but more numerous mammalian prey items, showing the versatility that makes the Redtailed Hawk such a successful urban breeder.

This past Saturday, however, while we saw adult redtails several times, we didn't see them anywhere near the nest. The site is now inactive, but since Travis and Jodie were successful there this year, they will probably return next spring--assuming a local pair of Great Horned Owls doesn't purloin this well-built nest for their own uses this coming December. This has happened at least twice in Van Cortlandt Park in the past few years, and there's not much the hawks can do about it. We're grateful that at least this time we got to see a redtail nest actually being used by redtails, before the non-paying nocturnal tenants barged in. (g)

I hope to spy the chicks a few more times this year, but given how dense the foliage has become in this part of the park, sightings will probably be rare.

Good Birding!

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