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Annus Horribilis

As this year's Manhattan Red-tailed Hawk nesting season comes to an end, it must be said this seems to be the worst year for Red-tails in the borough in recent memory.  It really was an "Annus Horribilis".

Here's the current status of Manhattan's known nesting pairs:

  • Houston Street - This nest ended up being "too urban", with each fledgling being picked up by animal control or the police. 

    The father was recently picked up as well after being found grounded.  He died this weekend from frounce, a disease picked up from eating infected pigeons.

    The first to be picked up has been returned to Astoria Park, and is in the "foster care" of the Triborough Bridge parents.  The parents have accepted the fledgling, but there is now a chance the bird has frounce.  It is being monitored by two dedicated Astoria hawk watchers, Jules and Peter. (Update: 7-4-08, the Houston fledgling does have frounce, which was detected on 7-2-08.  It took until 7-4-08 to find and capture the bird.)

    The two other fledglings are still with the rehabilitator Bobby Horvath and are being treated for frounce.  Their prognosis is good, but frounce can be a killer even with treatment.  (Update: 7-2-08, Sad news, one of these two fledgling has died from frounce.)
  • 888 Seventh Avenue - There was no sign of nesting this year.
  • Fifth Avenue - Despite repairs to their nest cradle, Pale Male and Lola did not produce any offspring this year.
  • 81st and Riverside - Three eyasses died due to secondary poisoning from eating poisoned rodents.  Necropsy results have not been finalized, but all three eyasses tested positive for two types of anti-coagulant rodenticide, brodifacoum and bromodiolone.
  • Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine -  The original adult male died earlier this year and was replaced with a new younger male.  There were two fledglings, one of which developed lead poisoning and has a lame foot, and is in rehab.
  • Shepard Hall, City College - There was no sign of nesting this year.  Red-tails sometimes build multiple nests, choosing one at the last minute.  However, despite repeated efforts to follow the parents, alternative sites were not discovered.
  • Highbridge Park -  Two eyasses died at about two weeks of age, reasons unknown.
  • Inwood Hill Park - Two or three eyasses depending on reporters. Two fledglings seen in the park.

So, it's been a horrible year.  We've had two adults die, and numerous eyasses and fledglings be poisoned, injured or infected. 


Fort Tryon

I hadn't been to Fort Tryon this season, so I thought it would be worth a look.  I ended up getting drenched in a thunderstorm, but I did see one Red-tailed Hawk on a building bordering the park at 196th and Broadway.  It was a second year hawk, with its tail feathers in molt.  It had a few old stripped brown tail feathers and a few new red ones.

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062908ftrt06There is an old brown tail feather on the right, two new feathers growing in in the middle, and two new red feathers on the left.


Broadway Bridge Peregrine Falcon Family

The Broadway Bridge Peregrine Falcon family can be difficult to watch, since the bridge has two towers.  This makes it difficult to see everyone at once and figure out how many there are.

Luckily, after a rainstorm early Saturday evening all five could easily be counted and identified.  While I was there one of the parents feed one of the youngsters.  The parents don't bring the fledglings their food, but instead make them chase them and make them catch the food in mid-flight.  It's amazing to watch.  (The 1 train prevented me from taking photographs of the feeding unfortunately.)

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Inwood Hill Fledgling

Inwood Hill Park has been a frustrating location for me this year. The new nest location made it difficult to see into the nest, so the few times I went, I didn't see any eyasses.  After they fledged, I also had trouble finding them.

On Saturday, I finally was able to find one of the fledglings with the help of Ranger Rob Mastrianni.  The fledgling was spending a quite afternoon relaxing below the old eagle hack site.

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Central Park Gets A Sleeping Cathedral Fledgling

One of the fledglings got itself into trouble and was taken to the Animal Medical Center.  It has lead poisoning and a lame foot.  It is now in the Horvath's care.

I searched Morningside park for other fledgling, worrying about its health.  I gave up, and as I walked east on 110th Street, I heard someone call my name.  It was Lincoln Karim, who had an adult and a fledgling in view on different buildings.  The adult was at 108th and Manhattan Avenue and the fledgling was on the lower roof of the building at the NW corner of 110th and Fredrick Douglas Boulevard.

After about fifteen minutes, the fledgling got up, and flew to Central Park.  We could hear the robins and jays mobbing the fledgling, but couldn't find it.  At dusk, with almost no light, Lincoln found the hawk.  He had put his camera away, but was very kind to point mine at the hawk.  I couldn't find it on my own.

So, tonight Central Park has a fledgling Red-tailed Hawk!

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Marie Winn's Central Park In The Dark On Sale Today!

Marie Winn's Central Park in the Dark  is on sale today. Congratulations to Marie, whose new book is getting excellent reviews. If you enjoyed Red-tails in Love, you're sure to enjoy this new book.

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I'm also excited that book is on sale for personal reasons.  The jacket photographs are mine and I'm included as a character in a number of chapters.

The book is a fun, easy read and is available online at a number of online resellers including:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Borders
or your local bookstore

Don't just take my work for it.  Here is some early praise for the book:

"New York City never sleeps, as Marie Winn proves in this delightful blend of natural history and human obsession. With her usual grace and humor, Winn weaves stories of tiny owls, exotic moths - even slug sex - into a captivating tapestry depicting the nocturnal wonders of America's most famous park." —Scott Weidensaul, author of "Of a Feather" and "Living on the Wind"

"How great is New York? Right in the middle of all that finance and culture and diplomacy, there’s a great reservoir of wildness—and people crazy-wonderful enough to explore it day and night. Marie Winn’s account will make you want to grab your headlamp and head for the park, wherever you live." —Bill McKibben, author of The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces from an Active Life

"Marie Winn’s new book is another gem. You pick it up and immediately have fun, learning a lot as you read about what goes on at night in the city." —Bernd Heinrich, author of Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival

"Marie Winn lights up Central Park at night with wit, intelligence and a warm humanity that makes this book a love song to the natural world, an elegy for a lost friend, and an invitation to the unknown reader to follow her into the inviting dark." —Jonathan Rosen, author of The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature


Astoria Park

Astoria Park has two fledglings in the park.  Both looked like they were doing well.  One was enjoying a branch of a tree, while the other was on a high diving board when I was there.

The foot up or foot out poses are quite common for Red-tailed Hawks.  They aren't a sign anything is wrong, they're just shifting their weight from one foot to another.

The Triborough bridge is in the background of the last photograph.

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Inwood Hill and Broadway Bridge

I went up to Inwood Hill looking for the two fledglings, but could only find one of the parents.  Reports are that both fledglings have been exploring the park, and spent most of the week getting mobbed by smaller birds.  I hope to have better luck next weekend.

On the way back, I passed by Broadway Bridge.  I saw both parents, and one of the fledglings.  This is a fun site, since you can see the birds from the Number 1 train platform.  Only in New York City.

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Rainy Evening At St. John

Between and during the thunder storms, I was able to watch a parent and one of the fledglings up at the Cathedral tonight.  We could hear begging from what might have been the second fledgling from one of the chapel roofs, but it was hard to be sure.

One thing I do know for sure, this is a beautiful place to take photographs.

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Divine Kids Fledge Safely

I was in Connecticut when all the action happened.  Stella Hamilton reports that this afternoon around 4:45 and then again at 5:30 p.m., fledges occurred at St. John the Divine.  This empties the nest.

When I arrived late in the evening, one fledgling was high in a London Plane tree on the east side of Morningside Drive and the other was in a low branch in a tree 150 feet into the Morningside Park.

061508sjtd01The fledgling in Morningside Park.

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061508sjtd04 A poor shot of the fledgling in the London Plane.


Perspective

When I started hawk watching a few years ago, I was disappointed by the poor quality of the information about hawks in the city.  While almost everyone was focused on the famous pair of Red-tailed Hawks on 5th Avenue, it was apparent that there was a wide selection of raptor species and nest locations in the city. 

It became clear to me that the highly anthropomorphized reporting on blogs and in the media was not bringing to light the true picture of the state of raptors in the city.  Pale Male's incredible consistency, producing young year after year, had created a distorted view of the reality of New York City's raptor population.

Because of this, I started blogging.  Along with many other individuals, I feel that we have begun to help turn the tide and are starting to have people look at the science of urban hawks rather than just follow them like creatures in the zoo or treat them as if they were pets. 

The phenomena of urban hawks is fairly new.  It is not conforming to established patterns and is making us think about new issues.  There are lots of gray areas with regard to conservation and a need for the urban hawk watching community to identify and then recommend areas for change.  There are many unanswered questions:

  • How to support rehabilitators in the city who depend on contributions from the public to support birds in need of care?
  • How to support birds who nest in awkward locations and areas?  When is a nest location too urban, and intervention is needed to protect the fledglings?
  • How to revise Animal Control policies, so fledglings are given a chance to establish themselves before being removed from urban locations?
  • How to educate the public, so that hawks are not harassed, stolen, injured or killed?
  • How to prevent secondary deaths from poisons?

This year, we've had an unusually large number of Red-tailed Hawk nesting problems in New York City.  A few pairs did not have successful hatchings, we've had at least seven eyasses die, and at least one fledgling die.  We've also had the largest number of nesting pairs in the city's recent history.  As, we have more pairs, the accidents will only continue to rise.

Let's be careful to take our disappointment about these nest failures, and not turn to anger, but let this disappointment motivate us to work harder with, and for, local organizations to promote urban hawk safety and to provide support for vets and rehabilitators who volunteer their time to assist these wonderful birds.


Friday The Thirteenth

The final Houston Street fledge occurred on Friday the thirteenth.  It started out with a mid-afternoon fledge, followed by the usual struggle to find the fledgling, who ended up being just across Houston street.  The young fledgling was doing well hopping from branch to branch.

In the early evening, the parents arrived with the father quickly leaving.  The mother then took a rodent and flew back and forth along the top of the school, stopping on drain pipes and air conditioners to attract the fledgling back to the school.  The fledgling soon took the hint to come north back to the school flying over Houston Street.

The fledgling crossed the road, but couldn't gain any height nor could it find a landing spot on the school.  It tired to grab the corner of the building but it ended up gliding into the street.  Luckily, we had two quick thinking hawk watchers at the site.  Edwin who stopped traffic and Adam who picked up the bird.

Then it got difficult.  A crowd had formed and followed Adam Welz, who had picked up the hawk.  Luckily, Adam has experience with raptors where he lives in South Africa.

He needed a safe space to release the hawk, but people were crowding him and touching the hawk upsetting it.  He couldn't release it on the ground, and had nowhere to put it.  As I went to get a cardboard box, a housing authority policeman came and took the hawk away in an animal carrier.

This nest is surely at a difficult site.  Let's hope the policeman took the hawk to a proper facility and it gets to a rehabilitator, who can return it to the site.

As dusk fell, the mother stayed on a lamp post looking for her fledgling until it got dark, and she roosted in a nearby tree for the evening.

Update: The bird is safely with its siblings, in Bobby Horvath's care.

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One Youngster On The Nest

Two fledglings have left the Houston Street nest and one remains.  This afternoon the mother was helping to shade the last youngster from the sun.  Hopefully, it will not be in any hurry to leave.

After about half an hour, the mother moved to an adjacent air conditioner cover.

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Science Not Emotion

Lincoln Karim has posted a libelous attack of Bobby Horvath, on his website, www.palemale.com about Mr. Horvath's decision to delay the return of the first fledgling of the Lower East Side nest to the site. 

Mr. Karim paints a picture of a young hawk being tortured in captivity, as if it had been sent to Guantanamo Bay.  He states that a standard identification band was illegally placed on the bird and that Mr. Hovarth's decision to delay the bird's return to the site after bring it back on Monday was some premeditated game.  Mr. Karmin even says that the death of the hawk would be better than having it be under Mr. Horvath's care.

The removal of the fledgling from the site may have been unnecessary, but once a bird is in a rehabilitator's hands, the rehabilitator must use his or her judgment about when is the appropriate time to return the bird.  (Mr. Horvath is licensed by the State of New York, by the way.)

The old school of thought was to return a fledgling as soon as possible back to the nest site.  In urban and suburban areas, there is a new school of thought that not rushing a poorly flying fledgling back to the nest area gives a bird a better chance of survival.  Mr. Horvath follows this new school of thought and has been very successful subscribing to it. 

Just look at last year's example.  Everyone rushed to criticize Mr. Horvath, but his choices worked out correctly.  The 888 Seventh Avenue fledgling did wonderfully after a week's separation from her parents.

The first few days off the nest are very dangerous for a young hawk.  Especially for a hawk that could not "branch" due to the nature of its urban nest location.  The grounds of the Public Housing Projects on the Lower East Side will be more difficult than normal.  While there are a few fenced in areas, they are much smaller than the fenced in private areas you will find in Central Park.

Let's let the licensed rehabilitator do his job without harassment.


Problem Fledge On Sunday

An eyas fledged today at the Houston and Avenue D nest.  I don't have all of the details yet but it appears the bird was taken away by police.

Fledgling problem such as this are very common in the city, when birds nest outside of parks.  Just after fledging, both young Kestrels and Red-tailed Hawks like to enjoy the ground before flying to safety in trees.

Inexperienced individuals rush to call authorities, who not knowing if the bird is injured, a premature fledge or just a newly fledged and startled bird end up removing it from its parents.

Let's hope the youngster gets to the right individuals, who return it to the Lower East Side after a check up.

Update 6-9-08: The young hawk has been turned over to the correct individuals, who are checking its health.


Saturday Afternoon On The Lower East Side

All three eyasses look great.  If you look at their development, especially the feathers on their heads, you'll see the differences in ages. 

Both parents visited the nest, and all five hawks were visible at once.   A dead adult male Red-tailed Hawk had been found in Tompkin Square Park, so there had been concerns about the adult male of this pair.  Luckily, this family seems to be doing well.

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Looking Good At St. John

I got to watch two delightful eyasses and their mother on Saturday afternoon.  One of the eyasses lazily stayed down during most of my visit in the left hand corner, while its sibling was very active.  All three did lots of panting on a 90 degree plus day.

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