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Friday, March 03, 2006

Fordham Campus Red-tailed Hawks

Chris Lyons has been e-mailing me updates over the last week. It appears that Rose and Hawkeye are back for a second year. Below are his correspondence in chronological order (oldest first). It's a lot of writing but I really enjoy Christopher's reports.

Subject: Re: Fordham hawk status
From: Christopher Lyons
Date: 2/28/06 12:44 PM

I've been putting off sending you a report, but last Wednesday (2/22/06), coming into work, I made an interesting discovery.

Hawkeye and Rose had not been paying any attention whatsoever to last year's nest, as you predicted might be the case. I would see them perching on various structures, but I never witnessed any courtship behavior, or even saw them in the same place at the same time. In fact, I can't even be sure it's the same hawks I'm seeing, though a few weeks back, I got a pretty good look at a bird I'm reasonably certain is Rose.

Anyway, last Tuesday, I looked across the expansive lawn beyond the nest tree, and just right of Martyr's Court, I saw an adult Red-Tail apparently land on Collins Auditorium. Not on some lookout post on top of the building, but (I was pretty sure) below the roof, on a ledge. A suspicion began to form in my mind, and I decided to walk over and investigate. As I got closer, I saw a Red-Tail perched in a nearby tree--probably the bird I'd just seen, so if it had landed on the building it hadn't stayed there very long.

Collins Auditorium is an older building, [..] and a substantial ledge maybe 15 feet below the place where the roof comes to a peak. The ledge is purely decorative, there are no windows overlooking it. The roof hangs out a bit, sheltering the ledge somewhat from the elements. And since rock pigeons do so love to perch on ledges like this--yeah, you guessed it. PIGEON WIRE. And off to the left side of the ledge, a large pile of sticks woven into the wire.

The Upper East Side may have lost its monopoly on Red-Tail nests constructed on buildings.

Although I was pretty sure I saw that hawk land on the building, I had little opportunity to check the nest, and was having some doubts about what exactly I'd seen. I was still not seeing the hawks together, I was rarely seeing them at all, I was never seeing them on Collins Auditorium, let alone the ledge. I can't monitor them from inside the library, the way I did last year, so my opportunities for observation are much reduced.

But today, a co-worker who is also into birding, and who heard about the nest from me, informed me that she saw one of the hawks sitting on the Collins Auditorium nest, just a few days ago. Although Rose could be a month or more away from laying and incubating eggs, it does seem there's a strong chance that a breeding attempt will be made there. Given the bad luck Pale Male and his partners have had with first-year nests on Fifth Ave, I hate to speculate on what their chances of success are. It's still possible this is a false alarm, but as of today, I can state with confidence that a third pair of New York City Red-Tails has at least considered breeding on a human structure.

Question: Is Hawkeye related to Pale Male? Is Rose? Neither bird much resembles him, but that's hardly proof of anything--not sure if Rose looks like any of Pale Male's mates. If they are not descended from the Fifth Ave. clan, and have no experience with nests constructed on buildings, that would mean they spontaneously struck on the same idea. They recognized the potential of the ledge, which was only a short distance from last year's more conventional platform, and the pigeon wire made it easy for them to build there. Whether the nest will prove suitable or not--whether they even use it or not--remains to be seen.

But the really interesting thing to me is that unlike Pale Male, whose first conventional nesting attempt on a tree inside Central Park failed, due to crow harassment, Hawkeye and Rose successfully reared two young last year. Crows have been no problem at all. There is no shortage of suitable trees on campus, if they wanted to change locations. And yet here they are, a year later, trying something new--a behavior their species has only been observed to engage in on a handful of occasions. With no apparent need, and still unproven advantages.

Curiouser and Curiouser.

* * * * * * * * * *

Subject: Re: Fordham hawk status (correction to earlier email)
From: Christopher Lyons
Date: 2/28/06 1:25 PM

I took another look at Collins Auditorium just now, and my memory was playing tricks on me--it does not have a peaked roof. The roof is flat, but there's a peaked triangular facade-type thingy on the front of the building, and the ledge essentially forms the bottom of the triangle. The nest is well to the left, snugly fitted into one corner of the triangle. I'll take some pictures eventually, and send them on to you, and you'll see what I mean. The building is done in a sort of modest Beaux Arts style, I think--not an expert--and of course the hawks couldn't care less. Form definitely follows function, so far as they're concerned. More ornate structures tend to provide them with more opportunities.

This nest is certainly much higher off the ground than the old one, but probably not as high as Pale Male's, and certainly not half so lofty as Pale Male Jr's suite at the Trump Parc Hotel.

My co-worker isn't sure if she saw a hawk in the nest yesterday, or this past Friday. But she's quite sure she saw it.

I checked my final report on your blog from last year to confirm my recollections--in 2005, fledging dates seemed to indicate that Rose laid her eggs either very late in March, or very early in April.

No way of knowing when they started nest-building this year--and unless a witness to their early labors turns up, I'll never know. Oh well. They know.

* * * * * * * * * *

Subject: Where the nest is
From: Christopher Lyons
Date: 3/1/06 2:50 PM

I found this picture of Collins Hall (originally called Collins Auditorium) on Fordham's website.

If you look at the picture on the right (the one where there's snow on the ground), you'll see the peaked triangular facade I was talking about, and you can sort of see where the ledge is. Obviously you won't see the nest, because it's not there yet.

From this vantage point, the nest is well to the left of the triangle.

I didn't see either hawk today, but I did notice something I hadn't seen before--a fresh pine bough placed in the nest.

It's going to be tougher to observe this one, assuming they go ahead with breeding there. So far, I haven't found any vantage point that permits an unobstructed eye level view of the nest, let alone one that allows you to look down on it. There are two nearby buildings that might allow a better look, but one is a dorm, and the other is the Administration Building, and neither is going to be much use once the trees leaf out, best as I can tell.

I'll have to watch it from the ground, and that's fine, except it will make it much harder to know when (or if) there are any eyasses. I think the picture gives you a good idea of how high up they are this time. I just hope it works out for them.

Sorry your search for active Red-Tail nests in Prospect hasn't panned out so far.

You know, it's not completely out of the question that some of your hawks might consider nesting on a building. It does seem to be the going fashion these days.

* * * * * * * * * *

Subject: Re: Fordham hawk status
From: Christopher Lyons
Date: 3/2/06 5:55 PM

Btw, that triangular facade thingy the hawks built their nest in is called a 'pediment'. More specifically, the nest was constructed on a 'horizontal cornice', underneath a 'raking cornice'.

I figured I better learn the appropriate architectural terminology if I was going to be talking to people about this nest. I kind of wish I was still talking about what kind of tree the nest was in, but it's not my call. Btw, the side of the building they used faces southwest--apparently a preferred orientation for Red-Tail nests.

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