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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Fordham and Van Cortlandt updates

Here is the latest from Chris Lyons along with some great photos:

"Subject: Another Fordham Fledgling, and an explanation for the Van Cortlandt nest's destruction
Date: 6/13/06 8:33 PM

Still can't be certain whether all three chicks have fledged--the question is complicated by the fact that the fledged birds keep going back to roost on the pediment the nest is built on. The one I was concerned about, due to his seeming lethargy, is much more active now, but may not have actually flown yet. I saw one bird that I believe to be the first fledgling up on the roof of Collins, trying her wings. 

The pale-chested eyass (most unusual for this area, though apparently many Red-Tail chicks never develop that orangey wash we're so accustomed to seeing here) has definitely fledged. On Monday afternoon, I was informed he'd been hanging around outside the door of the University Chapel, the towers of which are favorite lookout perches for his parents (they actually copulated up there a number of times, earlier in the year). I went over there after work, and photographed him from close range. Like his sibling the week before, he showed no sign of concern over the attention he was attracting from passersby. His parents actually were perched up above for much of the time I was photographing him, and they didn't seem much bothered either.   

Today (Tuesday) I saw two eyasses up on the pediment around noon, and spotted both adults towards the end of the day, but it's definitely getting harder to keep track of the family, and at this time of year, there aren't a lot of people around to watch them. It's a happy accident for Hawkeye and Rose that fledging occurs when it does, at the time the campus is at its quietest and most deserted. At least I assume it's an accident.  

We checked the area around the Van Cortlandt Park nest this past weekend, and found no sign of adults or eyasses. We went down to area directly under the nest tree for the first time, and found a lot of sticks from the now-wrecked nest lying there. Later, we ran into Alex Pirko, who originally told me about this nest, and whose photographs of it were posted here. He showed me a photograph from the previous weekend, of a raccoon in a tree immediately adjacent to the nest. Having wondered how the huge nest got so thoroughly trashed, I now see a very convincing explanation. An adult raccoon can weigh anywhere from 12 to 35 pounds--a Red-Tailed Hawk generally weighs in somewhere around 2 pounds. So a full grown raccoon could easily weigh two or three times as much as Jodie, Travis, and all three eyasses combined. If the chicks fledged not long after we last saw them, a raccoon who had noted all the fledging activity, or simply smelled rotting meat, might decide to climb up and see if there was any leftover food. Not hard to believe, since raccoons often brave the wrath of adult Red-Tails to rob active nests of eggs or small chicks, and the adult hawks frequently back down and allow this depredation. So just in the process of clambering up onto the nest, nosing around for tidbits, maybe digging through the sticks for buried morsels, then leaving as unceremoniously as he had arrived, a raccoon could do an awful lot of damage to a structure that was never intended to support such a heavy animal. Add in the torrential rains we had recently, and it's a wonder there were any sticks left at all. It'll be interesting to see if Jodie & Travis return to rebuild on this site next year, given the dangers inherent in having raccoons know the location. But in this case, I doubt very much a raccoon would have tackled the nearly fullgrown chicks--too much trouble for too little food. I hope all three are doing fine, but unless I'm lucky enough to stumble across them in the next few weeks, I may never know."

(Photo credit - Chris Lyons)

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