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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Sad Ending, Happy Ending

Red-tailed Hawks, whether hatched in a true wild environment or within an urban jungle, face many survival challenges within the first few weeks of fledging. They say that the first year is the most critical for a young raptor, but around New York City, it is sometimes just a matter of luck if a young hawk makes it passed the first month's gauntlet of metropolitan hazards. This is a story about two young Red-tailed Hawk's whose young lives took very different turns, yet are now tied together, through luck and the kindness of others.

Early in the month, Cathy, Bobby Horvath's wife, sent out an email about an injured Red-tailed Hawk:

Date: June 5, 2010
Subject: Red-tailed Hawk

Today we got in a fledgling from the Bronx that was caught on barbed wire on top of a fence and has a wing injury now. It was located at the vicinity of Bruckner Blvd. and Brush Ave. There must be a nest nearby.

When I received the note, I immediately searched for the location on Google Earth. What I found was a heavily industrialized area crisscrossed with highways at the edge of the Bronx River. There were a couple of baseball fields nearby, as well as, a small cemetery. It didn't seem like a very good spot for nesting Red-tailed Hawks. I knew that the young hawk was in good hands with Bobby and Cathy, so didn't give it much thought until I received a call from Bobby this past weekend.

Bobby called to tell me that the Bronx hawk had healed nicely and was ready to be released. The only problem was that they were unable to locate the nest or any other hawks near the spot where the small male hawk was found. He explained to me that, in his experience, adult Red-tailed Hawks will readily accept and feed an orphaned fledgling crying for food. Bobby didn't want to overburden parents with three offspring, but any with one or two would be alright. I suggested Big Mama and Junior, in Green-Wood Cemetery, for a couple of reasons. There were only two fledglings to feed, plus, Junior has always been an amazing provider, often bringing more food than his offspring could possibly eat. He agreed that the cemetery family would be a good fit, so I called Marge to arrange approval with Green-Wood's management. It seemed that all was happy and tranquil within the Brooklyn hawk kingdom...until Monday.

I received a call from Marge. She was very upset. A security officer in Green-Wood Cemetery found one of the fledgling red-tails dead. It was near the side of the roadway, beneath the large spruce tree where they liked to perch. It was impossible to tell visually what had killed the young raptor. The 90+ degree temperatures had caused the carcass to rapidly decompose. I spoke with Tommy, one of the security guards (and a huge fan of the hawks) who told me he had patrolled the area the previous night and that he hadn't seen the hawk. It expired in a spot that would have made it hard to miss, especially by someone who is attuned to their habits. There are lots of things that could have killed it. One fairly common illness is frounce, which they can get from eating an infected songbird. Marge contacted the Urban Park Rangers, who picked up the carcass to send to the NYS Wildlife Pathologist. Ward Stone will determine the cause of death and I'll eventually post that info here.

In the meantime, Bobby still planned on releasing the Bronx fledgling in Green-Wood. So little time had passed since the cemetery hawk died that, perhaps, Big Mama and Junior never missed him and would immediately accept the new one. We arranged to meet at the entrance to the cemetery yesterday afternoon and then drive to the area beneath the nest where the fledglings had been hanging around (and begging for food).

Tommy came along with us and we all walked the area in the shadow of the towering Littleleaf Linden tree looking for the surviving fledgling. It only took a couple of minutes to locate her perched in a favorite cedar tree near the edge of Linden Avenue. She then commencing crying and flying around hoping her parents would show up with some food.

Yesterday was Bobby's son, Chris', birthday. In celebration, Chris was given the honor of releasing the hawk. We walked up the side of "The Hill of Graves" towards the large London Planetree where the larger, female fledgling had flown. After a minute or two, Chris released his hawk and it flew into a linden tree at the top of the hill. A moment later, the female (his new adopted sister) flew across the hill and perched in the tree a couple of feet above the male. They checked each other out for a few minutes, before the female decided he was cool, then she went back to the cedar tree and continued squealing for food. Before we left, she had rejoined her new brother from the Bronx and the two sat side by side waiting for one of the adults to deliver dinner.

Here's a slideshow of the event:

In addition to the Red-tailed Hawk fledgling, Bobby also had a few other, tiny passengers in his car. On his way to Brooklyn, he had to stop somewhere else and pick up three American Kestrel chicks. At this time of year, the young falcon will sometime leave the nest (or fall out) before they are ready. In the wild, it might not be such a huge problem, but around NYC they end up near busy streets or sidewalks. Fortunately, there are many caring people around who will pick them up and call a wildlife rehabilitator. The three chicks in Bobby's car needed about another 10 days of feather growth and fattening up before they could be released and fend for themselves. One was so hungry that he kept trying to eat the newspaper at the base of the carrier. Another would nibble on Bobby's finger if it came within reach. Bobby was planning to stop at a grocery store on the way home to pick up some steak to cut up and feed to the hungry little things. I'll keep you posted about their release in Brooklyn.

Here's a ridiculously cute video:

1 comment:

cathy hovath said...

Thanks Rob ! That was a good slide show . Chris was happy to see himself on the computer ! The kestrel video was very cute . The little guys and girl were ravenous when we got them home . Pretty underweight , but I am like Junior the hawk , I bring plenty of food for my babies !! Thanks for a great spot for the release . Such a beautiful place . We will be going back there to look around .Keep us posted on the babies . Thanks again from all of the Horvath family ... Cathy

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