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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Red-tailed Updates

The Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery offspring have been making advances.

The last couple of times that I visited Green-Wood Cemetery the two young red-tails were still hanging around Ocean Hill. Big Mama and Junior seem to have slowed down or stopped food deliveries to their offspring. Both youngsters were flying around the hillside calling & whining. It may seem a little cruel, but the adults know that they need to force the young birds to become independent. The young raptors have discovered winds blowing in from the south and the resulting updrafts flowing over the hill. They have now begun soaring high above the treetops. As the strong winds lift them up over the ridge, their wings wobble and rock from side to side, as if it were their first, tentative steps.

A week ago I located the Nelly's Lawn trio sitting at various heights in Elizabeth's Tuliptree. It was the first time in nearly a month that I'd seen them all together.

I recently read a book entitled "Falconer on the Edge: A Man, His Birds, and the Vanishing Landscape of the American West" by Rachel Dickinson. It is a fascinating look into the world of falconry and one man's devotion to his birds and his insights into the natural world. I highly recommend the book. I began observing New York City's urban hawks back in 1995, but didn't start keeping notes and following them closely until 2002. I've always been amazed at these bird's adaptability and tolerance to humans. After reading Dickinson's "Falconer", I started to wonder just how amenable to our desires these local hawks might be. What I discovered surprised me.

I've thought long and hard about sharing this experience. I waited over a week because I didn't want anyone to try to copy me. Now that the hawks are better hunters and have learned to avoid people, I think it might be alright to tell my story. Please keep in mind that, after a certain point, my little experiment might be contrary to most state & federal wildlife laws. I would need a license to take it to the next level. Please do not attempt what I have.

I know I'm just personifying, but it seems like one of the trio has become my new friend. He is the smallest of the three and, because he has already lost the salmon wash on his breast and throat, is probably the oldest by a few days. A couple of weeks ago I saw him perched fairly low to the ground. On a whim, I tied a piece of wood to some string I found. When I tossed it into the grass and pulled it slowly, he attacked the wood like a playful cat. The next time I saw him, he seemed ready to play and spent about 10 minutes diving at the lure and footing it. When I spotted all three youngsters perched in "Elizabeth's Tuliptree" across the meadow from the nest tree, I thought I'd try again. With my back to the tree, I started to reach into my bag for my string, but before it was even visible, my new friend flew down out of the tree and over my head to a low perch in front of me. He had dropped down so low to my head that I could have touched him. He watched me with great interest as I unraveled the string. As I swung it around before tossing it, he tried to grab it out of the air. He landed on the ground in front of me and watched, as if to say, "Well, I'm ready". I tossed it on the ground and he ran after it, "killing" it when he caught up. If I were licensed and dedicated to the art of falconry, he clearly would have been a willing and able hunting partner.

Before you send me any hate mail, note that this hawk has already moved on in his development and no longer shows any interest in "playing" with strange humans. Also, I never plied him with food.

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