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Friday, June 12, 2015

Nesting Red-tailed Hawks Update

Forgive me if I've been neglecting our locally breeding Red-tailed Hawks this season. Here's a quick update and one interesting story.

I don't think that the resident pair in Prospect Park that nested near the baseball fields were successful (or even built a nest) this year. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden pair looks like they have three this year. At Green-Wood Cemetery I wasn't able to locate any active nests. One pair seemed to have given up on the chapel nest. That pair, however, is still hanging around. As always, Bruce over at Urban Hawks has been keeping up with the hawk nurseries in his area. Google Groups "RaptorsNYC" also keeps tabs on our breeding raptors. This is a particularly busy period of time for Bobby and Cathy at WINORR (Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation) as they receive nearly daily calls of raptors leaving the nest too early or just getting in trouble after they fledge. This week they picked up two new charges from an unexpected location in Brooklyn.

I received the following email from my friend Pam:


From: Pamela Langford
Subject: Hawk nest near Green-Wood?
Date: June 9, 2015 11:29:09 AM EDT

Hi Rob --

Do you know of a red tail nest in or near Green-Wood? Bobby Horvath posted on Facebook that he has a juvenile red tail picked up on Chester Ave., which appears to be near Green-Wood.



I checked Google Earth and found that Chester Avenue runs into the Fort Hamilton Parkway side of the cemetery in an area called "The Flats". Red-tails have nested in that part of the cemetery previously, so I was pleasantly surprised and optimistic that a pair actually was successful in Green-Wood.

Apparently Bobby had received two young hawks that day. From his Facebook page:

"Both of these young hawks came in today. The younger one from Chester Ave in Brooklyn and the one in the back from Melrose Ave in the Bronx. The female in the front has a little more growing to do but the other is close to the right age for fledgling. We'll try to find their nests but it is getting harder to keep track with so many new birds breeding all over the city." I told him I'd go over to the cemetery to check it out, but then received this note:


From: Pamela Langford
Subject: Re: Chester Ave hawk
Date: June 9, 2015 4:55:36 PM EDT

Looks like Chester St. is in Brownsville -- a different part of Brooklyn. Chester Ave. is close to Green-Wood. Do you know for sure which it is?



The following note from Bobby nailed down that, in fact, the nest was in Brownsville, no where near Green-Wood Cemetery ... or any large park:


From: Bobby Horvath
Subject: Re: Chester Ave hawk
Date: June 10, 2015 7:46:07 PM EDT

Got a second fledgling today a business owner found in middle of street at 175 Blake Ave about 2 blocks from the first one. This one is more developed gets a little height longer tail than first. Got to be a nest someplace right there. Maybe on the school? Can't get there till Friday myself working a 24 hour shift. They are both appear healthy uninjured.



Once it is determined that the young hawks are healthy, it is very important to return them to the vicinity of the nest. From there the parents will find them, continue to feed them and teach them how to, eventually, fend for themselves. I promised Bobby that I'd do my best to try and locate their nest.

Google Earth has become an indispensable tool for searching for nest sites. I plugged in the Blake Avenue and Chester Avenue locations and looked for parks or large buildings suitable for a Red-tailed Hawk nest. My first assumption was that it would be on a ledge of P.S./I.S. 323, a block long building on Chester Avenue. Blake Avenue is a cross street at the south end of the school. The next morning I took the "3" train to Brownsville and walked several blocks up to the school. I didn't see anything that looked remotely like it could be a red-tailed nest. Most of the buildings around P.S./I.S. 323 are small, 2 story homes. The street is lined with young London Planetrees. Nothing large enough to hold a large raptor's nest. A huge, dilapidated building on the corner of Rockaway and Blake Avenues seemed like a possible spot for a nest. I decided I'd check it out after walking over to the 175 Blake Avenue address.

I never did have a chance to check that building because as I turned the corner of Bristol Street onto Blake Avenue I looked up and noticed this perfect hawk nest constructed on top of an air conditioning unit. Anyone passing me on the street probably would have heard me chuckling under my breath, like that cartoon dog. I crossed the street to get a better view and try to determine if there were any nestlings still on the a/c unit. There didn't appear to be. A row of mature trees lined a basketball court across from the nest, so I walked around checking for young and adult hawks. Periodically I played recordings of young Red-tailed Hawk begging calls, but nobody responded.

The nest is located on outside a classroom window in Frederick Douglass Academy VII High School. The nest is so obvious that I was surprised that nobody would have noticed. It would have been an amazing educational opportunity for the students in the high school. In a neighborhood that is sorely lacking green spaces, this close contact with wildlife would have been an unprecedented learning experience. Imagine if the school had set up a webcam to share the experience with the rest of the world. I guess I shouldn't be too shocked as I've watched New Yorkers overlook a Red-tailed Hawk perched directly over their heads or be completely nonplussed once it is pointed out to them.

I'm not sure what it is about this particular neighborhood that attracted this pair of Red-tailed Hawks to nest on the high school. The small park across the street offers little in terms of hunting grounds. Perhaps there are a lot of pigeon coops in the area that they raid, although I didn't notice any flocks flying around. The nest is roughly between 2 to 2 1/2 miles from Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir to the northeast, Marine Park to the southeast and Prospect Park to the west. To a non-raptor any of those other spots would seem more fitting for raising a family. On the other hand, perhaps it is the central location that makes it easier for them to pick and choose their daily hunting grounds. To us impatient New Yorkers having to travel several miles for a meal is unheard of, but a Red-tailed Hawk can cover 2 miles in under a minute.

So I gave Bobby the good news and assumed that he would let me know when the family was reunited. Another hawk family story with a happy ending. That was until I spoke with him this afternoon.

Bobby and his wife have been a certified wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization for many years. With few exceptions, the public views them as heroes, working tirelessly (and without compensation) for our urban animals. When I said "with few exceptions" I was, unfortunately, referring to the reaction Bobby received when he called Frederick Douglass Academy today. He introduced himself, explained that he had two young hawks rescued from near the school and needed permission to return them to their parents. The principal was unable to speak with him, so he was instead transferred to the assistant principal. I wasn't present for the conversation, but I could hear the shock and frustration in Bobby's voice as soon as I answered his call. The assistant principal said she was well aware of the nest, that it had three babies and what was he doing with them?! He tried to explain what he did as a wildlife rescuer and the importance of returning the young hawks to their parents. This woman, this alleged educator, however, didn't want to have anything to do with him. In fact, she refused to give him access to the roof because these "dangerous animals" shouldn't be near the students. Huh?! I'm not sure where it will go from here, perhaps the principal of the high school is a more enlightened individual and will allow the hawk family to reunite. Maybe not. I'll keep you posted.

This situation has had me thinking about the ongoing discussions about how to educate our children, specifically, in New York City, but more generally in the United States. While adults with walls lined with degrees teach our kids how to take tests a real life "National Geographic" moment was happening right under their noses. At Frederick Douglass Academy they had the opportunity to teach kids about the urban environment, conservation, biology and a host of other disciplines from real life. You can't get any better than that, but the adults that should have known better choose to either ignore it or teach the kids that these are "dangerous animals" to be feared. Tamika Matheson is listed as the Interim Acting Principal to the high school should you feel a need to contact her.

1 comment:

cathy hovath said...

Both fledglings are back on the school roof as of 7:30 tonight . Thanks for your help locating this nest Rob !

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