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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Territorial skirmish at the Fordham nest

The following update from Chris in the Bronx has given me some ideas about what could have been behind the hawk death in Green-Wood Cemetery.

"Date: 3/31/06 12:07 PM
One big difference between the Central Park Red-Tails and most other breeding pairs in the NYC area is that there are so many faithful sharp-eyed observers during the nesting season. Basically, Pale Male and Lola can't scratch themselves, or relieve their bodily wastes, without it being carefully notated in someone's diary, or documented in photographs (often of spectacular quality).
Me, I'm lucky I get to spend two or three hours a week watching Hawkeye and Rose. I check the nest in the morning, if I'm not running late for work, and then I check it at lunchtime, and then I check it before I head home. I scan the seemingly empty nest for a telltale tail sticking out, or a curious head popping up. I wait for something to happen. Most of the time, nothing happens. I go back to work. Incubation isn't what you'd call action-packed most of the time. The good stuff mainly comes later. 

But this past Wednesday (3/29), something exciting actually happened. I was quickly able to confirm there was an adult sitting in the nest on Collins Hall when I arrived--there was definitely a tail sticking out. Then I saw another adult fly over, and assumed it was Hawkeye. Then I saw a third adult, and I knew there was going to be trouble.

One adult landed right next to the nest, and a quick glance confirmed it was Hawkeye. The third hawk was perched provocatively in a nearby conifer. And then Rose got up out of the nest, and got into a sort of crouching position, her tail held high, her head held low. She made bobbing movements with her head, and a very agitated "Eeee! Eeee! Eeee! Eeee!" sound emanated from her syrinx. She looked seriously pissed off. No more so than Hawkeye, however, who was glaring very pointedly in the direction of that tree.

The war council having been held, Hawkeye suddenly leaped from the pediment and flew at top speed towards the intruder, who immediately retreated. Whether this was a deliberate challenge, a misunderstanding, or just one of last year's kids hoping for a handout--who knows? A member of a nearby breeding pair, or a floater hoping to take over an occupied territory? From Hawkeye and Rose's perspective, it really didn't matter. This time of year, three's a crowd. Period.

I briefly lost sight of Hawkeye, as he chased the other hawk in a southeasterly direction, and apparently out of the campus (and out of the territory?) He must have broken off the pursuit pretty quickly, because a minute or two later, he landed on the nest, and stood proudly surveying his domain. Rose settled back on the eggs. The moment was gone. It had lasted about two minutes. None of the scores of people walking by had shown any sign of noticing the conflict. Hawks? What hawks? Why is that guy standing there with binoculars? I went back to work.

As I left the campus that evening, I saw an adult Red-Tail (presumably Hawkeye) flying east over Fordham Road, with what looked like the choicer parts of a rock pigeon in his talons. He'd obviously caught the pigeon well west of the campus, circumstantially backing up my theory that Hawkeye and Rose consider the heavily built-up area between the Grand Concourse and the campus to be part of their hunting territory--because they originally nested there in 2004, on Creston Avenue, just west of the Concourse. They didn't change territories, they just chose a different and safer spot within their territory. Or so I think.  But what are the eastern limits of their territory? Is there another local breeding pair that holds sway over part or all of Bronx Park? What about the pair reportedly breeding in Crotona Park, not very far to the south of Fordham? It usually takes a lot more than two or three hours of casual observation per week to answer questions like that, but I'll keep trying."

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