Peregrine Falcons
Monday in the Heights

St. John the Divine 2006 Red-tailed Hawk Nest

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (or St. John the unfinished, since it is only partially completed) sits above Morningside Park just northwest of Central Park next to St. Luke's Hospital.

The Cathedral has had Red-tailed Hawk nests in the years past, but I hadn't heard any news about a current nest from any of the Central Park birders. 

I had gone up to St. John the Divine looking for a nest earlier in the spring.  I was trying to find out where the Red-tails in the North Woods were nesting but I didn't have any luck finding the nest.  (St. John the Divine is the largest Cathedral in the world, so I'm not surprised I didn't find it!)

Out of the blue, Bill Green emailed me early last week, that there was a Red-tailed Hawk nest on the Cathedral.  Tuesday it was raining very hard, so I had to wait until Wednesday to go up and see the nest.

051706rtsjtdmap
The nest is located on the east end of the Cathedral, just behind the altar.  (This is true east, not Manhattan street grid east.  If you're used to thinking the grid is due north, the nest is NNE.)  This is a new location, as the old nest was on the western side of the building. 

Dog walkers in the neighborhood told us that construction of the new nest began last year. (Update: James O'Brien found pictures of the nest site with just a few twigs in 2004, so construction on this nest began at least two years ago.)

051706rtsjtda_1
The nest sits on the shoulders of a statue about 100 feet up.  The Red-tailed Hawks can enter from either side.  An ornamental top above the statue protects the nest from rain and the nest seems well built and very stable.

051706rtsjtdb
Almost as soon as I arrived on Wednesday, a Red-tail appeared.

051706rtsjtdc
The Red-tailed Hawk looked stunning behind the hand of the sculpture.

051706rtsjtdd
Imagine my surprise when I saw there was an eyas in the nest.  The adult female wasn't just sitting on the nest. She was already a mother!

051706rtsjtde
What a nice surprise, given the nest failures lower in Manhattan on both the Fifth Avenue and Central Park South nests earlier this year.

051706rtsjtdf
The father arrived later that evening, and perched on what we would learn was his favorite spot in the late evening, an ornament at the SE corner of the St. Luke's Hospital building at 113th and Morningside Drive.

 

On Thursday I returned.  James O'Brien, who I had told about the nest, joined me on Thursday.  (James blogs at yojimbot.blogspot.com.  For his perspective on the nest, take a look at his blog.)

051806rtsjtda
It was interesting to see how much fresh material was on the nest.

051806rtsjtdb
She kept looking down and then...

051806rtsjtdc
An eyas appeared.

051806rtsjtdd
I was able to get a few baby pictures.

051806rtsjtde

051806rtsjtdf
The father sitting on the St. Luke's Hospital perch.

051806rtsjtdg
Note the light belly band and the lack of color on his shoulders.

051806rtsjtdh
The mother has color on her shoulders and a darker belly band, although as Red-tailed Hawks go, she's rather light colored.

 

When I arrived on Friday evening, no one could be seen.

051906rtsjtdc
The mother then appeared but very quickly left the nest.

051906rtsjtdd
An eyas soon popped up and began to flap around.

051906rtsjtde
Cute little guy.

051906rtsjtdf
John Blakeman was kind enough to give me an estimate of the eyas' age, 14-18 days.

051906rtsjtdg

051906rtsjtdh
This is really one of the most beautiful nest locations I've ever seen.

 

On Saturday, I spent the late afternoon at the nest.

052006rtsjtda
One of the adults was on the sculpture of Gabrielle blowing a trumpet soon after I arrived.

052006rtsjtdb

052006rtsjtdc
Nice wings little guy.

052006rtsjtdd
The father perches about 20 feet from the nest.

052006rtsjtde
The chick seemed very well fed with feedings every few hours.

052006rtsjtdf

052006rtsjtdg
Two adults and a baby.

052006rtsjtdh
The father just before he flies off.

052006rtsjtdi
The mother.

052006rtsjtdk

052006rtsjtdl

052006rtsjtdm

 

On Sunday, I spent six hours in the afternoon and evening looking at the nest.

052106rtsjtda
When I arrived the mother was on the nest.

052106rtsjtdb
She soon left and after thirty minutes, two eyasses were visible.  Yes, two!

052106rtsjtdc
They looked great together.  The nest looks to have a very deep bowl.  I wonder if the eyasses need to reach a certain developmental stage in order to be able to climb to the edge.  Will we find another one in a few days?  Who knows?

052106rtsjtdd

052106rtsjtde

052106rtsjtdf

052106rtsjtdg

052106rtsjtdh
Mid-afternoon the mother arrived with food.

052106rtsjtdi
She stays for a while and then leaves.

052106rtsjtdj
We find her perched on a building a few blocks east on 110th Street.

052106rtsjtdk
We lose sight of her but she soon returned with some food.  She perches on a cross 20 feet below the nest on a side chapel that is behind the altar.

052106rtsjtdl
She enters the nest from the left.

052106rtsjtdm
She appears to be eating with the eyasses, although it could be that she is helping to feed one of them.

052106rtsjtdn

052106rtsjtdo

052106rtsjtdp

052106rtsjtdq
The father returns to his St. Luke's perch.

052106rtsjtdr
All is quiet for over an hour in the early evening and then a chick appears.

052106rtsjtds
The mother is on a building on 110th just below Morningside Park.  She adjusts her stance to let the wind blow through her feathers.  Was she drying off after the early afternoon shower?

052106rtsjtdt
The mother returns and sits on the hand of the statue. . .

052106rtsjtdu
. . . before hopping into the nest.

What a wonderful five days of birding. 

I don't think these birds need to be named.  But if it turns out folks want to name them, I think we should ask the children of the Cathedral School to do the honors.  These Red-tails are their neighborhood birds, not ours.

I spent a lot of time on 113th Street these last five days, and if you live in Morningside Heights, you should be proud of your neighbors.  I met the nicest people.  They shared their knowledge of the hawks, asked great questions, welcomed me and had the manners you would expect to see in a small town.  It was nice to discover that Morningside Heights is a real neighborhood.

If you go up to see the nest, don't expect instant gratification.  There are long periods where the parents can't be seen and the young are sleeping.  Expect to spend an hour or two.  If it's too boring, you can go to Morningside Park, do some birding and come back.  You will need binoculars, but you don't need a telescope.