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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Red-tailed Hawk Journals

Excerpt from "The Red-tailed Hawk Journals: A City Birder in Brooklyn":

Friday, 15 March, 2002

On the 11th I noticed that the female was gnawing on a small branch that was growing up through the nest. Today I found that she had successfully removed the annoyance and all that remained was a chewed stub.

This morning the pair was hunting primarily in the area close to the nest site. A middle-aged man playing 50's hits on a boombox has laid claim to a nearby park bench and was feeding large quantities of bread and peanuts to the pigeons and squirrels. He has created quite a concentrated food supply for the local pair.

I first located the pair today perched near the nest. The female was holding a White-footed Mouse in her talons. Despite a fresh meal in one foot she kept jerking her head around and glaring at a couple of squirrels in the tree above her. I kept thinking she'd drop the mouse and go after the more substantial meal but she didn’t.

Later, on Center Drive, I stopped for a moment when I heard the call of an Eastern Phoebe near the Quaker Cemetery. While I was looking for the phoebe two Red-tailed Hawks landed in a large oak tree above me. They appeared to be a different pair from the ones I’ve been watching.

What I've been able to discern so far about the 3rd Street pair is that the female is quite noticeably larger than the male. The feathering around her cheeks and approaching the nape is reddish brown while on the male it's mostly gray. Although it's hard to tell from a distance, the white terminal band on both birds is extremely worn, almost tattered.

While watching the pair on Center Drive I noticed that the smaller of the two birds has very pronounced white mottling on his back that forms a noticeable "V" pattern. Also, the feathers on the (presumably) female’s head are extremely dark with very little contrast around her cheeks.

I watched the male of this second pair hunting on the side of Quaker Ridge. Both the hawk and I thought that his abrupt dive to the ground was successful but as he jumped up onto a log he seemed to only have a talon full of leaves. He picked through the leaves and twigs only to find his quarry had escaped. He then walked the length of the log periodically leaning over to peer under the edge of the wood. A few minutes later he flew into a Linden Tree on the Neathermead Meadow and began calling for his mate.

The female hawk remained near the top of Quaker Ridge. When the male flew off towards Lookout Hill I noticed that he had a large stick in his talons. I assumed it was nesting material but he was flying in the "wrong" direction. I followed quickly on my bike and found him perched with his stick at the northeast corner of Lookout Hill. Now I was really confused. Could there be yet another nest? He eventually continued flying south along the east edge of Lookout Hill. I tried to follow but he was too fast and I lost track of him near the Wellhouse building on Wellhouse Drive.

Could this second pair be from Green-Wood Cemetery? The male was flying south with the nesting material. Could he have been collecting material in Prospect and flying back to the cemetery with it? So many questions. The saga continues.

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