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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Prospect Park Red-tailed Hawk update

I received an email regarding a pair of Red-tailed Hawks that appeared to be building a nest at Nelly's Lawn. This is the time of year when we see increased courtship activity and nest building by the local Red-tailed Hawks, so I thought I should go check it out.

The email explained that the two hawks were in the huge Tuliptree at the north end of Nelly's Lawn. The male hawk was observed carrying a large branch across the meadow and into the tree. I couldn't tell from the photo if it was Ralph and Alice (from the Ravine nest) or a new pair of Red-tailed Hawks.

I only had a little time at the end of the day on Monday, so made a quick run up to the north end of the park.

The Tuliptree on Nelly's Lawn is a massive, old hardwood and a favorite perch for hawks. I imagine that if a pair did decide to nest in it, there would be a lot of confrontations with other raptors. Fortunately, there didn't seem to be any signs of new nest construction, so I walked the short distance to the Vale of Cashmere. I scanned the sweetgums, beeches and other deciduous trees surrounding the pond, but didn't find any nests. There was a small flock of Purple Finches feeding on the ground. One of the male birds has already begun a pre-Spring serenade for the females.

With no hawks or nests in sight, I decided to head back home.

As I passed Rick's Place, I spotted a small Red-tailed Hawk up ahead. He was perched directly above the path near the Boulder Bridge. The bird seemed unfazed by my presence and nearly tame. He had several rows of dark tail bands; remnants of juvenile plumage. That might indicate that he is coming into his second year.

The hawk was scanning the ground for prey when he spotted something on the north side of the Boulder Bridge and took off in a steep dive. I ran over to see if he was successful. Three men were standing on the bridge talking and the hawk flew within a foot of one guy's head. The hawk just missed catching a squirrel, which scampered up the opposite side of the tree. Flying back towards us, the hawk came to rest on a very low branch. He was completely indifferent to the four people watching and perched only about 6 feet away and at eye level.

The Ravine has been the nest woods for Ralph and Alice for 6 years. I was surprised that this "new" hawk was hunting here with such impunity. On my way through the Ravine I checked on the pine tree nest. There didn't appear to be any new material, yet.

This past Saturday I went back to Nelly's Lawn and the Vale of Cashmere looking for hawk nests. I ran into my friend, Nancy, at the vale. While we were talking I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk landing in the Tuliptree on Nelly's Lawn. Scanning through the branches I spotted a second hawk perched next to him.

The male hawk snapped a branch from the Tuliptree and flew circles in front of the object of his affection. The branch was still decorated with many, dried tulip blossoms and gave the impression of a Valentine's bouquet. He then came to rest in a pine tree opposite her. She didn't move, but just sat in the Tuliptree, facing her potential mate. He flew back to her and they sat face-to-face for several minutes. When the male took of flying towards Mt. Prospect Park, she followed.

It was overcast, so I couldn't be absolutely certain, but they looked to be a "new" pair of Red-tailed Hawks for Prospect Park. Their coloration appeared to be the opposite of Alice and Ralph. The bird carrying the branch had a dark face and the female was very light. To be continued...

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