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Monday, May 09, 2005

Fordham Red-tailed Hawk report

Christopher Lyons' reports from Fordham University has helped fill my raptor withdrawal this season. Without Big Mama and Split-tail's activities to keep me busy I've gotten more involved in learning about the local flora. Today I received the following update from Christopher. It made me want to hop on the subway and ride up to Fordham. In the coming weeks I'll try to post some photos of "Rose", "Hawkeye" and their offspring.

"I haven't reported on the Red-Tailed Hawk nest at Fordham University in some time, for the simple reason there was nothing substantive to report, other than the typical daily goings-on at a Red-Tailed Hawk nest during incubation, which anyone who has observed such a nest is well familiar with, and I now, after more than a month and a half of daily observations, feel overly familiar with.

Given that I first saw Rose, the female, sitting in the nest on 3/21, I had expected some evidence of young no later than the end of April--early May at the outside. In this, I was frustrated, all the more because I can watch the nest from nearly eye-level, making it theoretically easier to confirm the presence of young. Theory does not always work out so well in practice, as has often been noted in the past.

Today, 5/9/05, a full FIFTY days after incubation seemed to have begun, I was able to glimpse two tiny white fluffy heads, just barely sticking over the top of the nest. They were only visible for a few moments, but it was a huge relief. I was not entirely surprised, because leaving work on Friday, I had stood almost directly under the nest, and heard what I was pretty sure were begging cries emanating from it. Extremely faint though, and I wasn't sure my ears weren't playing tricks on me.

What looked like feeding behavior had been going on for some days before that--on Monday, 5/2/05, I saw Hawkeye in the nest, nibbling on what looked like a dead squirrel. Later, Rose kept bobbing her head down into the nest, which I found encouraging--but I was repeatedly discouraged by my inability to see any tiny heads sticking up when the adults were sticking their heads down, even when I was observing the nest from eye-level. Plus, I never actually saw any food in the beaks of the adults--they were obviously carving very small portions for their brand new babies.

This morning, it was Hawkeye, the male, sitting on the nest, as is often the case early in the mornings--but this time he was positioned very high on it, almost as if he were sitting up, which gave me renewed hope. However, even when he got up and perched in a nearby branch, it was impossible to see any eyasses. It wasn't until about 12:40 this afternoon that these two very tiny chicks (perhaps a week or so out of the egg) felt inspired to stick their heads out while I happened to be there to see them. Obviously there could be more, but two was all I saw.

Rose has been out of the nest a lot, but usually she can be seen perching on top of a large metal crucifix on a building directly across an open area of well-manicured lawn from the nest tree. This vantage point serves her very nicely in place of a nice dead tree, giving her capital views in all directions, and so far no cries of sacrilege have been raised by the university administrators, who are mainly as fascinated as anybody else by the unfolding life drama. Plus I think some of them are hoping the New York Times will show up at some point to interview them, with no blessed event expected for the Fifth Avenue Red-Tails.

I can tell the pair apart quite easily by now--Rose, aside from being larger, has a very pronounced golden-tawny sheen on the top of her head, while Hawkeye's head is a duller brownish color, with faint white streaks on top. Rose in particular is extremely blase about the presence of humans under the nest, perhaps more accustomed to people than any wild hawk I've ever observed. Given the location she chose for her nest, she doesn't really have any choice about this, though.

I was obviously severely misled by Rose's apparent incubation--she could not have started laying her eggs in March at all. I knew that she might sit there for a few days before laying eggs, but given how small the chicks are, we're talking at least a week, possibly more, of unproductive sitting. I must note that unlike some more famous Red-Tail nests, this one was not under constant daylight observation, and I don't really know at what point she began spending her nights in the nest. I'll pay close attention to fledging dates, and try counting backwards, to get at least a rough idea of when the eggs might have hatched.

Last year, in the Van Cortlandt Park nest (apparently inactive this year, though I feel oddly moved to go check it after today), we first observed chicks on 5/1/04, and they seemed a bit more developed than the two I saw today. Jodie, the Van Cortlandt female, was on that nest in late March as well. Calculating hatching dates in advance is harder than I thought, apparently. Wouldn't it be nice if they'd just TELL us when they laid their eggs? Save a lot of time and worry, that's for sure. But even if they could understand such a request, I'm sure their response would be "None of your damned business, you gawking two-legged mammals! Just be grateful you're too big for us to carry up here, or you'd find out firsthand what's going on in our nests."

I'd estimate fledging will start in Mid-June, but having said that, I'm sure I'll be proven wrong again. When I am, I'll be sure to report it."

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