Monday, June 27, 2011

Brooklyn Red-tailed Hawk Updates

It has been two or three weeks since Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park's juvenile Red-tailed Hawks left their respective nests. Marge called me with an update from the cemetery and today I tried to track down the pair of young raptors from the Nelly's Lawn nest in Prospect Park.

After dropping off a book at the Brooklyn Public Library I walked into Prospect Park at the entrance adjacent to the statue of James Stranahan. From there I planned on walking south, passed the Vale of Cashmere, to Nelly's Lawn. Last year's fledglings from the meadow's nest spent much time in Elizabeth's Tuliptree or the stretch of trees immediately to its north.

Randomly scanning the trees isn't a very good strategy for locating the young hawks. I've found that relying on sound works much better. Songbirds make an assortment of alarm calls when a red-tail is perched nearby. Robins and starlings are the most abundant birds in the park at this time of year and their vocalizations always point the way to the hawk's perch. In addition, at this date the juvenile hawks are still receiving meals from their parents so they can sometimes be found when they start to whine for food.

I didn't find the two juveniles or their parents near Nelly's Lawn or the adjacent Vale of Cashmere, so I decided to cross East Drive to scan the huge linden trees that border the Long Meadow. As soon as I crossed the road I heard several starlings making what I like to call the "hawk warning". It is a short, scratchy sound that they make whenever a predator is in the vicinity. They were in a linden tree several yards west of the road. I walked around the tree three times until I finally spotted one of the juvenile red-tails. She was quietly preening while surrounded by three or four irate European Starlings. Her sibling didn't appear to be in the tree. After I had been watching for about 15 minutes I noticed a pair of robins making their version of the "hawk warning" call from somewhere to the south of me. I started to walk in that direction when I heard the familiar "keeerr" call of one of the adult Red-tailed Hawks. That sound motivated the young hawk to start crying for food. Listen for it in this video, as well as, the starling alarm calls (the hawk is in the lower center part of the frame):



The adult hawk soared over the Long Meadow in widening circles, heading to the northeast. Within a minute or two, the crying juvenile took off flying towards Nelly's Lawn. I could see the parent high in the sky over the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The young hawk is clearly still learning the details of flight and made no attempt to catch up with her parent. Instead, she just landed midway to the top of Elizabeth's tuliptree and continued her begging cries.

I had been standing at the base of the towering tuliptree for several minutes when I noticed that the young raptor's sibling was perched nearby. The smallish bird is likely a male and was preening in a dead tree in the northeast corner of Nelly's Lawn. The hawk's bright, white underside stood out like a beacon in the blazing summer sunshine. (Click image for close-up view)

Marge was leading an historic tour in Green-Wood Cemetery yesterday when she spotted that location's two fledgling red-tails. They were perched on tombstones in the soldiers lot adjacent to the nest tree. She had the driver stop the tour trolley so she could get a closer look of the two hawks. With tour participants all pressed up against the bus windows, Marge delighted the group as she belly-crawled up the hill towards the red-tails. As I would expect, the hawks were mildly perplexed by her presence and allowed close approach. She told me that they both seemed healthy and were finishing off a freshly killed squirrel. Marge promised to send me some pictures, which I'll post here. Hopefully, someone on the tour also got a few shots of her crawling up the hill.

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