Friday, June 15, 2012

Red-tailed Tale

Two weeks ago I was in New Orleans when I received a call from Bobby. A very young Red-tailed Hawk had fallen from his nest in Brooklyn and Bobby had retrieved the youngster for evaluation. He explained to me that the very small male raptor had a possible injury to his foot and was at least a couple of weeks shy of fledging. At the time of the phone call, my wife and I were walking around the French Quarter with her friend, Jude, who lives in the Big Easy. We had stopped into Tujaques for pre-dinner cocktails when I had my first conversation with Bobby about the situation. Jude is a very laid back guy and seemed completely unfazed by my conversation about baby hawks in Brooklyn.

One of Bobby's concerns was being able to return the young hawk to the nest in a reasonable amount of time, but was unfamiliar with the Brooklyn nest location. I wasn't sure I'd be back in New York in time, so I put him in touch with Paige, who knew all the hawk nest sites. Flash forward to this weekend. Bobby still had the young hawk as he felt the bird needed more time to develop flight feathers, put on some weight and for his clenched foot to open up. We made arrangements to meet at Green-Wood Cemetery and release the little guy back to the wilds of Brooklyn and the care of Big Mama and Junior.

When the hawk was removed from its carrier I was surprised at how small he appeared. Bobby said that, while healthy, he is, in fact, a very small bird. According to Clark and Wheeler's "Hawks", red-tails can range from 1.5 to 3.3 pounds. I assume that this little pipsqueak is at the very low end of that weight scale. For that reason we've decided to call him "Pip". He is also recognizable by his missing central tail feathers.

Pip's first day back in Brooklyn did not go very well. When I went back to check on him the next day he was stuck in the cedar tree in a very awkward spot halfway up the tree. While he did manage to face into the wind, spread his wings and flap a little, it didn't appear like he would be able to launch himself from that spot. It also didn't appear that mom and dad would be able to deliver any food to him. I let Bobby know my concerns and he arranged to come back the next day. Both Marge and I would be working, so Pam (a transplant from the Manhattan hawk watching circle) met Bobby at the cemetery. Here is the email that she sent out on Wednesday night:

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From: Pamela Langford
Subject: Green-Wood today
Date: June 13, 2012


All went well while I was at Green-Wood today. I saw two feedings, and there might have been a third -- the [baby's] crop looked really full when I checked in before going home around 7 pm.

Shortly after you left, the parent approached the [baby] with a small bird. The baby seemed startled, and jumped to the end of the branch. The food fell to the ground, and the baby hawk was dangling precariously for a few minutes. The parent sat nearby and watched. The baby eventually moved to a more secure perch -- but the food was still on the ground. After a while, the parent picked up the food and flew to a nearby tree. A few minutes later, the parent brought the food back, put it on the ground just underneath the baby, and again perched about six feet away.

Still nothing happened, so the parent picked up the food from the ground a second time, and flew away again. After a while the parent decided to try once more -- and this time it worked. He or she (I'm not sure which parent) landed near the baby with the food, and finally the youngster had his meal. He apparently ate the entire bird -- I saw nothing on the ground but a few feathers.

All three fledglings were in the same tree most of this time. A little over an hour later, the parent brought more food to the [baby] -- and this time everything went smoothly. I didn't get close enough to see what food the parent brought.

The parent's determination to feed the baby was wonderful to watch (and the baby sitting quietly with a full crop was wonderful as well).

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Big Mama and Junior will have their hands full caring for the three fledglings in Green-Wood Cemetery, but they are both very attentive parents in one of the safest raptor territories around the 5 boroughs. I began watching Big Mama in 2002. Over the past 10 years she has hatched 21 offspring. Of those I am only aware of 3 deaths - one from frounce, one fell from the nest and broke its neck and one of undetermined causes. That is a pretty impressive success rate, so I am very optimistic that little Pip will survive the year and hopefully go on to raise his own young.

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