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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Brooklyn Red-tailed Hawks

Prospect Park's trio of young Red-tailed Hawks look healthy, active and ready to leave their nest tree at any moment. The two juvenile hawks in Green-Wood Cemetery, on the other hand, are exploring the area surrounding their nest tree and one has already made a kill.

Upon arriving at Nelly's Lawn in Prospect Park, it became very apparent that the trio of young hawks are ready to fledge. All three have mastered branching and were perched on the large branches below the nest. The largest of the three seemed impatient and slightly hyperactive, wandering frequently from branch to branch, flying short distances to the more outlying perches. At one point, she flew back up to the nest where she appeared to be feeding on scraps of previous meals.

Nelly, their mother, was perched in her usual spot in the tuliptree, just to the northwest. There are several Baltimore Orioles nesting in the vicinity and, whenever either of the adult hawks are monitoring the young hawks from that spot, the orioles noisily dive-bomb them. On this particular occasion, I was amused when a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher started to attack Nelly. The gnatcatcher weighs about 6 grams, compared to the Red-tailed Hawk's hefty 2.4 pound bulk. Nelly didn't appear to notice the tiny bird's insect-like screams or its "taps" on the back of her head.

Nelly and Max's triplets are clearly ready to fledge. Their tails are much longer than the last time I checked in on them, so I counted the bands. There were six, dark brown bands, which is what the Green-Wood Cemetery youngsters now have.

In Green-Wood Cemetery, one of the offspring fledged on or around Saturday. When I returned with Marge yesterday, the second hawk had left the nest. It took me all of about a minute to find him, as he was perched right at the side of the road, only about 12 feet up. There was a young couple walking up the road, about to walk right under him, so I asked them if they'd like to see a "baby" Red-tailed Hawk. We watched him from a low rise on the opposite side of the road and spoke for a few minutes about the hawks of Brooklyn. The whole time that we were speaking I heard several robins making distress calls from just south of the nest tree. When the couple left, I headed over to see what was causing all the commotion ... I mean, I figured it was one of the hawks, I just wasn't sure who or why.

I quickly tracked the sounds to an Atlas Cedar across the road from the "Drummer Boy". The older of the two fledglings had discovered a robin's nest. I wasn't sure if she was raiding it or just standing next to it, because she didn't seem to be doing anything. The adult robins weren't taking a chance and several were calling and taking swipes at her. Then I witnessed the unimaginable, she grabbed the nest in one foot and began pulling it from the branch to which it was anchored. Eventually, the entire nest fell from the tree and a nestling robin came tumbling to the ground.

I ran to where the chick landed and, amazingly, it seemed no worse for the wear. It peeped loudly a few times as I picked it up and looked for a safe place to put it. Marge picked up the nest and I suggested using it as a base in a nearby Yew tree for the chick to perch in. After I put the little thing in the Yew we backed up to allow the parents to continue feeding it. It only took a few minutes, but one of the adults did fly into the Yew tree to check on its remaining offspring. I understand the role of predators and prey in the grand scheme of things, but it was a little disturbing to see that the young Red-tailed Hawk had actually taken and eaten a second robin chick. On the other hand, I was also extremely impressed that the fledgling hawk had learned, in only a matter of days, how to fend for itself.

A short while later, Junior returned to the area with a freshly killed pigeon. He perched in a maple tree about 50 yards from the nest tree and began calling for his offspring. The older of the two fledgling hawks arrived first and claimed the huge meal. Her sibling then arrived, but could only call and watch as his nest mate dug her talons into the pigeon. The only problem was that she didn't seem to quite understand what to do next. Walking back and forth along the branch, trying to figure out how to balance, pluck the bird, and keep it away from another hungry mouth, appeared to be too big a challenge. She lost hold of the bird and dropped it to the ground.

The two young hawks looked around, a little baffled, trying to locate the vanished meal. I walked to the base of the tree, picked up the pigeon by the wing and showed it to them. They didn't seem to understand right away, so I swung it around, then tossed it into the grass below them. Marge and I backed up several yards and sat down to watch.

One of the hawks seemed unconcerned and flew off to another branch. The other one did something kind of amusing. The branch she was on drooped slightly, the end of which bent into a "u" shape, bringing it fairly close to the ground. The young hawk began slowly walking backwards, down the branch. Once she made it to the lower, "u" section of the branch, she stopped, carefully scoped out the dead pigeon, then swooped down on it, talons opened for the kill. She seemed relatively wary of me, but I was able to crawl on my belly within a few feet and watch her eye to eye. After a few minutes, she carried her meal to the base of the tree where she repeatedly footed it before plucking and eating. Footing seems to be an instinctive behavior that insures that they have killed their prey.

These two young Red-tailed Hawks appear to be in a good location and, certainly, in good hands as their parents are extremely vigilant and really good providers.

1 comment:

Ed MacD said...

Most gratifying, Rob. How's the
flu? You seem to be running around
an awful lot for a sick man,and
during monsoon season.

Tell your hawks we could use some
of them down here in Midwood. Lots
of big old trees on some of the
quie side-streets and in people's
backyards and plenty of pigeons
and squirrels.

Ed MacDonald

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