Saturday, May 28, 2005

A visit to the Fordham hawk nest

I rode the “D” train up to the Bronx this morning. Chris Lyons had generously offered to meet me at Fordham University to show me the Red-tailed Hawk nest. A university ID card is required to enter the campus but, as an employee, Chris was able to bring me in as his guest. This is the only NYC hawk family that has their own security force.

When I arrived at the viewing spot I was surprised to see that the nest was relatively exposed and low in the oak tree. Perhaps this is Rose and Hawkeye’s first nest. Big Mama and Split-tail’s first nest in Prospect Park was of a similar design. Over the years, however, their placements became progressively higher and less exposed.

Watching the nestlings

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Rose and Hawkeye have selected a very desirable territory. The north and east side of the campus borders the Bronx Botanic Garden’s 250 acres and Van Cortlandt Park’s 1,146 acres are a stone’s throw to the northwest. There’s lots of rats, squirrels and bunnies in them there woods!

The two red-tailed nestlings are still about two weeks shy of fledging. Their heads are still covered in white downy feathers but their wings, body and tail have developed a lot of adult plumes. It was very exciting to see one of the chicks (I assume the first to hatch) flapping his wings to build up his strength.

A couple of weeks to go







(Photo credit - Rob J)

Several blocks south of the campus is Roosevelt High School. The pinnacle of the school’s domed tower is crowned with a weathered, copper wind vane. The arcs of three interlaced hoops create an open sphere within the wind vane’s four direction markers. The sphere and it’s equatorial cross braces are apparently the perfect size for a pair of perching Red-tailed Hawks. Chris told me that, next to the university’s large crosses, it’s one of the pair’s favorite perches.

Hawkeye & Rose on favorite perch

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We had been keeping a close eye on the relatively lethargic chicks for about an hour when Rose flew in to check on her offspring. Both Hawkeye and Rose had been seen earlier circling the sky above Rose Hill. Rose had quickly and quietly slipped into the nest but her presence did not go unnoticed. Four trees to the south a squirrel hung upside down and squeaked a typical squirrely warning. I think squirrels have a sixth sense for predators.

Rose checking up on her offspring

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Rose didn’t bring any food with her and just seemed to be looking over the nest and her young. Perhaps the four humans looking up at her tree made her a little nervous. She only stayed for a short time then flew off across the grass field to join her mate in the sky. There was a little excitement at around noon when a pair of Peregrine Falcons entered the airspace above the campus. The larger of the two falcons made a few passing dives at Rose but they were quickly chased from the area. One of the falcons doubled back across the field traveling west while making a harsh, aggression call. Rose held her ground and perched on the peak of an apartment building roof, I assume to make sure that the high-speed predators didn’t return. We thought that we’d seen that last of the raptors when another zippy individual made an appearance. A tiny American Kestrel flew across the field and perched at the top of an oak tree. He announced his presence with a shrill, high-pitched “killy, killy, killy”. He stayed less than a minute then flew off to the west.

Chris suggested that we travel over to Inwood Hill Park to check on the Red-tailed Hawks in that park. It was a short bus ride across the river to the northern tip of Manhattan. The good weather was holding up but, as we walked into Inwood Hill Park, we noticed dark clouds on the horizon. I had never been to Inwood Hill Park and was pleasantly surprised by its lush woodland. As we were walking to the hawk overlook we heard the songs of Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Carolina Wren, Wood Thrush, Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Baltimore Oriole. An Indigo Bunting was singing in a tangled, secessional habitat not far from the hawk overlook.

We spent a long time trying to find an opening in the foliage so that we could see the hawk nest. Chris said that the trees had grown in considerably since his last visit. An adult Red-tailed Hawk with a dark face flew into the woods at the top of the ridge. She perched on a dead branch directly in front of us. The clouds were moving in and we hadn't found the nest. We about to give up looking when Chris found a small hole in the canopy with a view. One of the nestlings was visible and nearly grown. He will probably be leaving the nest very soon. The limited view of the nest made it impossible to see if the other nestling was still present.

I was surprised by the difference in nestling development between the Inwood Hill and the Fordham University offspring. I guess there are no hard and fast rules for the breeding cycle of urban Red-tailed Hawks. There is such an abundance of prey around the city for our hawks that I suppose the typical rules of the forest no longer apply.

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Fordham University, 5/28/2005
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Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Rock Pigeon
Chimney Swift
Red-eyed Vireo
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Canada Warbler
Northern Cardinal
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

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Inwood Hill Park, 5/28/2005
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Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Yellow Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Eastern Towhee
Baltimore Oriole
House Sparrow

2 comments:

rangerbob said...

Your blog is excellent - your photos are great. I hope you are sharing the photos beyond your blog and getting some published.

The red-tailed hawk nest visit and pics remind me of recent "incident" in my backyard at my bird feeder here is Washington. It appears that a quail was taken about a week ago. The feathers left behind on the lawn bare witness to something not good for the quail. I don't know if it was a prey bird or a ground based predator.

Keep up the work and I’ll visit regularly – I have listed your blog on mine.

Rob J. said...

Thanks, Bob. I haven't had any of my photos published and you'd probably laugh if you saw my camera. It's just a small Canon Powershot S50. For distant subjects I digiscope through a spotting scope or my Leica 10x42 binoculars. Digiscoping through my friend Shane's 80mm Zeiss scope gives far superior results than through my dinky 60mm Kowa.

I'll give your blog a look.

Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope