Tuesday, February 08, 2005


(Photo credit - Rob J)

Newlyweds in the Bronx?

Here is a Bronx Red-tailed Hawk nesting update that I just received from Chris Lyons. It may seem a little long but I really enjoyed it:

"Rob,

I have no updates about the Van Cortlandt Park red-tail nest, except to say that the nest is still there, and looks to be in good condition, and hasn't been taken over by Great Horned Owls. Don't get to visit very often, so don't know if the hawks are visiting the nest, or adding any sticks to it. In the meantime, I have another nesting situation to report.

I work in the Walsh Library at Fordham University's Rose Hill Campus in The Bronx, and yesterday morning (Monday, 2/7/05) [ ... ] I happened to notice a bulky mass of sticks in a tree where I had not seen any such mass the previous week [ ... ] . Then I saw a Red-tailed Hawk fly out of it. Then I noticed another Red-tailed Hawk was still in it. Then I saw the other hawk fly back. Then I saw what I'm pretty sure was copulation going on, right in the nest. Apparently nobody told them Fordham is a Jesuit University.

Now there have been Red-tailed Hawks seen around Fordham for years, mainly immature birds, and the occasional adult (there are also some Peregrine Falcons in the area, possibly a pair, but no idea where they might be nesting). The University is directly across from Bronx Park, a noted haven for wild raptors (as well as the location of the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens), and the university itself has a very large number of stately trees, not to mention an enormous and largely fearless squirrel population--just one patch of grass in front of the library may have thirty or more squirrels, of both the grey and black color phases, scampering across it at one time. Now that I think about it, I haven't been seeing a lot of squirrels around the library in recent days. Or any, actually.

[ ... ] Getting back to yesterday, there was considerable nest-building activity going on throughout the day, though neither hawk was present as I left that evening. It should be said that the human activity around the nest was considerable (and largely unaware of the hawks, of course), and that the nest is not well hidden at all. It seemed like the larger of the two birds was doing most of the stick gathering and nest-building while I was watching, but the smaller bird brought sticks as well, and seemed to take considerable interest in the work being done. It seems reasonable to assume the larger more active bird was the female, but I didn't have my binoculars, and didn't get the best possible looks. I was afraid to approach them too closely, since they obviously knew I was watching them (as most people in the area were not). As I've said before, in my experience, most raptors know the difference between people who are ignoring them and people who are taking an active interest in them, and they greatly prefer the former.

So anyway, today (Tuesday, 2/8/05) I haven't seen either bird at all, in spite of taking every possible opportunity to observe the nest [ ... ]. The nest seems mainly complete, though the upper rim could probably use some more sticks. I have some questions as to whether the nest is sufficiently well-anchored to survive a big storm--it's in the crotch of a thick diagonally leaning branch in an oak tree, about sixty feet off the ground, and not wedged into the crotch of the tree trunk, as I have seen in the case of other Red-tailed Hawk nests. But what do I know? I couldn't build a nest like that to save my life. It's remarkable to actually see what I've only read about; the hawks shaping flexible living branches, ripped from nearby trees, into a bowl-like structure, though not without making many errors, and wasting many sticks, which fall to the well manicured lawn below. The instinct is strong, but the experience may be lacking here.

I'd hazard a guess that this is the first nesting attempt for this pair, and that one or both of them may be immature red-tails I've observed hunting on the campus in recent years, who have now claimed the campus as their breeding territory. If it is a first breeding attempt, there's a very good chance it won't succeed. This might explain the seemingly unsuitable nesting site. There are any number of potential complications attending to nesting in the spot they've chosen, though perhaps not as many as are involved in nesting on a fifth avenue co-op. [ ... ] Vehicles of various types do pass along the narrow blacktop road next to the tree, though usually at very slow speeds. Many interesting scenarios present themselves. But none may materialize. It depends on the hawks.

I wouldn't care to speculate on whether their absence today means they've given up on this location because they became uncomfortable with an increased amount of attention, or whether they're simply off hunting, and will resume nesting activities in the coming days and weeks. If they can't cope with being gawked at by people, this is definitely the wrong place for them to nest. There are some other, much larger and more secluded trees on the campus that would afford them more privacy, and perhaps more protection from the elements. But it's their decision to make.

More reports when and if there is more to report.

Chris"

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