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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Green-Wood Cemetery & other hawk updates

Northern Mockingbird feather below the nest

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Yesterday afternoon Marge called from Green-Wood to say that the younger eyas (eyass?) is still on the nest, along with yesterday's daredevil. An interesting note, while we were talking, Junior flew into the nest with another mockingbird. That makes three (at least) in four days. They must be a seasonal delicacy.

She spoke with one of the groundskeepers earlier in the day who had an interesting experience. He had been cutting the grass when he spotted a young cottontail in his path. The rabbit was motionless and wouldn't move out of his way. He began to get off of the mower to shoo it out of the way, but someone beat him to it. He felt a rush of wind on his head as one of the Red-tailed Hawks swooped down from behind him and landed on the rabbit. It was quick and painless. His story made me wonder if the hawks have learned that by watching the lawnmowers moving through the long grass, it's likely that lunch might come bolting out into the open. The behavior would be similar to that of Cattle Egrets, who follow Water Buffalo because they stir up insects when they graze.

I arrived at the cemetery today at about 1PM. The younger of the two red-tailed nestlings seemed to be about a day or two behind “Amelia Earhart” , so I hoped to catch the little one’s maiden flight. In 5 years I’ve only been present once for a first flight, and that one didn’t go very well, but I’ll save that for another day.

Walking the roadway from the entrance to the nest tree is a little boring so I decided to walk over Battle Hill and weave my way through the monuments and headstones. Along the way I noticed that mockingbirds were almost as abundant as robins. It’s no wonder that Junior has been catching them for his offspring. They’ve been getting in the way of the rabbits and squirrels.

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Once at the nest, it seemed pretty clear that the younger hawk hadn’t fledged. What was surprising was seeing Amelia back in the nest. Usually, once a young hawk takes her maiden flight, they don’t return to the nest. At least, that’s been my experience with Brooklyn Red-tailed Hawks. The younger hawk still had a bit of white down around the sides and front of his head. When standing side by side, it was easy to tell the two apart. While the hawk who already earned his wings slept hunkered down in a deep section of the nest, younger flapped up a storm. He would hop-flap to a branch that stuck out over the northeast side of the tree and commence flapping. By this point, I had been joined by Matthew and Marge. We were all cheering (or at least quietly rooting) for the little one to take off. Each time a gust of wind would roll up the hill, he seemed motivated to flap, but at the last moment would just jump backwards into the nest.

His wings seemed unbelievably large for his body. Perhaps it’s his small, partially feathered head that exaggerates the odd proportions, but he doesn’t seem used to them. I noticed that, during some of his practice sessions, he would stop and hold his wings in a drooped posture, as if they were too heavy.

Junior arriving with lunch (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Junior flew into the nest at about 2PM. He brought another bird for the two growing hawks. The older eyas immediately moved to his father and stood mantling over the prey. Mantling is an instinctive behavior where a hawk opens his wings and, like a shade, uses them to hide is prey. Here's a video that illustrates the behavior. The little one got the message, backed off and passively lay down in a corner of the nest until Amelia had her fill. By about 3PM, it was the little one’s turn to eat. There was still plenty of meat on the bird and he ate until his crop bulged. At 3:17PM he hopped up to the bent branch where he had been practicing his flapping techniques earlier and began furiously pumping his wings. We were sure that he was going to take off and, at one point, he lifted about a 12 inches off of the branch. But, as he did earlier in the afternoon, he soared backwards and landed in the nest.


(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

I stayed until 6PM and neither hawk attempted to leave the nest. You can see the determination in the younger bird’s relentless exercises. I would be surprised if he didn’t take off tomorrow.

Up in the Bronx, Chris has been busy keeping tabs on Rose, Hawkeye and the triplets. Here’s his latest report:

Date: June 6, 2007 7:41:29 PM EDT
Subject: Hawkeye is ready for his close-ups

For the past two and a half years since they showed up here at the Fordham campus, I've never had a chance to photograph Rose or Hawkeye up close, though they aren't really that shy of people. A number of my co-workers have had the good fortune to see them at close range, and have been amazed at how unconcerned they seem to be. It's just that whenever I've happened to see one of them at close range, I've never had a camera handy.

I had gone up to the roof of Dealy Hall to make sure all three eyasses were still on the pediment (which in fact they were, no fledging as of this afternoon). All of a sudden, Hawkeye, who had been perched on Keating Hall a short time before, flew by at eye level, then landed on the railing, facing west. He stayed there for a minute or two, then dove down and to the left. He gave me a few bemused looks, but I didn't move any closer, making use of the 12x optical zoom on my camera. The extreme close-up also makes use of the digital zoom a bit, and please note--no leg band, and there's dull white streaking on the head--definitely Hawkeye.

Then I managed to get a few shots of him soaring overhead. He seemed to be hunting, and he must have recently been successful, judging by the blood on his beak evident in the close-ups. That, combined with the nictitating membrane covering his eye, certainly gives him an eerie unearthly demeanour in the final close-up. Although my reports from Fordham have tended to focus on growing chicks, and the mystery of Rose's leg band (now solved), I have to say--I've always been impressed as all hell with Hawkeye Pierce. He's one kickass Red-Tail.

I'm taking a day off from work tomorrow (Thursday), and will be back Friday. One or several of the chicks could fledge in my absence. But I think they can manage without me for one day.

Hawkeye at Fordham (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Christopher Lyons)

That note was followed by one from Rich Fleisher this evening:

Date: June 7, 2007 10:34:39 PM EDT

I spent a lot of time today watching the Fordham nest. The Fordham eyases are getting bigger and their coloring has changed quite a bit. One of the three is much further along, based on the amount of jumping around the nest site than are the other two. I still believe that fledging is at least several days to a week away even for the most developed of the three.

While observing the nest, I saw the most advanced of the three chicks become quite attentive letting me know that one of the parents was probably around the nest. Sure enough, Hawkeye was sitting on the cross of the administration building which is near to Collins Hall where the nest is located. After observing him on the cross, he made a dive behind a bush and came up with a small squirrel which he then proceeded to treat himself to most of it before bringing some of it up to the nest for the eyases.

I saved the best for last. Bruce Yolton, following up previous reports of a Red-tailed Hawk nest at the Unisphere in Flushing Meadow Park, observed, what I think is, one of the most chic of all the NYC red-tailed nest locations. For those too young to remember, the Unisphere was a huge sculpture of the Earth that was the symbol of the 1964 World’s Fair. If you’re into watching cheesy, 1960’s corporate videos, I have just the thing for you. An archival piece about the creation of the Unisphere can be found here. Here are a few of Bruce’s photos from today, but you can read about his entire experience here.

Hawks on top of the world (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - D. Bruce Yolton)

I’m going to try to get to the cemetery early tomorrow and I’ll let you know the outcome.

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