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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Fordham hawks mystery solved

Rose and Hawkeye

(Photo credit - Christopher Lyons)

Early on in the monitoring of Rose and Hawkeye at the Fordham campus Chris had questions about their origins. He postulated that they may have been the pair that had nested on an apartment building fire escape. His persistance paid off and below is what he has discovered:

"Subject: Confirmation at last on the origins of Rose and Hawkeye
From: Christopher Lyons
Date: 7/11/06 10:15 PM

There is little new to report about the current status of Hawkeye, Rose, and their three fledged eyasses at Fordham. I've had limited opportunity to track them down on the campus, and only see them occasionally, now that the family is more mobile. They do seem to still be centered around Collins Hall and the University Chapel, and some of my co-workers do report some interesting occurrences as they pass through that area--one grounds worker told me he saw one of the young hawks successfully catch a squirrel about two weeks ago (dropped down onto it from a tree). Sometimes the young are spotted with a prey item, down on the ground. Sometimes most or all of the family is spotted soaring overhead. I myself saw one of the adults being harassed by a kestrel last week. But it's getting to the time when sightings become farther and fewer between, and it's time to submit a final wrap-up report for Breeding Season 2006. I happen to have the perfect note on which to conclude--a mystery solved.

Back on March 9th of this year, I first reported my suspicions that Hawkeye and Rose were the same Red-Tail pair that nested on the fire escape of an apartment building on Creston Ave, across from St. James Park, only a short distance from Fordham. This was in 2004, around nine months before two Red-Tails of similar appearance built a nest in a tree near the University Library. Piece by piece, I learned the details of that earlier nesting, which I had previously known nothing about. Because of a small number of local youths displaying an unwholesome interest in this breeding attempt, the 2004 pair had their nest removed by Chris Nadareski of the DEP, along with their still-fluffy young. The two eyasses were successfully reared and released upstate by Mr. Paul Kupchok, a licensed rehabilitator working at Green Chimneys, a residential treatment center near Brewster, that cares for animals as well as people. The parents never attempted to nest in that area again.

The coincidence of the 2004 breeding attempt, so close to the 2005 nest, was compounded by the fact that Rose was observed to have a band on her right leg in the months following her appearance at Fordham. Banded Red-Tails are not that common, and it seemed a reasonable deduction that she acquired this piece of jewelry at the time Chris Nadareski removed that nest. I was never able to contact Mr. Nadareski to confirm this. But as it happens, he isn't the one who banded her.

Not quite two weeks ago, I happened to mention all this to David Kunstler, of the New York City Parks Dept, who works in The Bronx. He remembered the case of the Creston Ave. nest, and he knew some things I didn't--namely that the female of that pair had been found with a drooping wing on 5/14 (only a few days after her nest was removed). She could still fly, but was significantly impaired, and had to be taken into custody. After being mistakenly shuttled over to the Animal Medical Center on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (pity Red-Tails don't have language as we know it, or she'd have quite a yarn to tell her youngsters), she was put into the care of Bobby Horvath and his wife, Rebecca Asman, two very experienced rehabilitators who live on Long Island. Ms. Asman judged this female to be 5-6 years of age at the time. The newcomer impressed both of them with her confident bearing, and ability to quickly adapt to her new surroundings, which included a large number of other convalescing birds and mammals. After an early period of understandable distrust, she got on well with her keepers, but remained inherently a wild bird.

Rose's banded leg

(Photo credit - Christopher Lyons)

On 6/7, her slight injury properly healed, she was released in the same place she was captured--with a band on her right leg, to help identify her in the future. Mystery solved--and if I can ever read the number on Rose's band, I can know it for a certainty, but I'm certain enough as matters stand now. Rose is that very same female, and there's no reason to think she would have needed to find a new mate after such a short absence, so Hawkeye is almost certainly the same male. They would have found each other with little difficulty (I would give much to have witnessed that reunion), and in the coming months, would have cast their eyes around for a more secure nest-site within their shared territory. Probably they had already noticed the green shady campus, only a few minutes flight from their 2004 nest--be interesting to know why they didn't nest there in the first place, although St. James Park does have a very large pigeon population, and they could hardly understand why some humans would react differently to their breeding activities than others. Her rehabilitators were both very gratified to learn that their former charge and her mate had managed to successfully rear five young since her release, in a place where their presence was welcomed--and where they were guarded by 24/7 campus security.

In the process of talking to the Horvaths, I also learned of two other active Red-Tail nests in recent years. They mentioned one at the VA Hospital in Jamaica, and one built on a window air conditioner on the Queens Courthouse (unclear whether either pair produced young this year). Both nests were known to locals, and observed with great interest. We agreed that there must be many other nests in the five boroughs that none of us knew about. Indeed, if this little mystery story proves anything, it's that there's a lot of things about our local Red-Tails (and urban wildlife in general) we don't even begin to suspect--but that we all stand to learn a great deal more if we pool our knowledge."

(Photo credit - Christopher Lyons)

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