The two eyasses are looking a great deal older than the last time I saw them. Fluffy gray bodies have given way to brown wings and orange chests. There mother was just finishing up a feeding when I arrived.
Thanks to some great detective work by Melody Andres, we now know that both the Grant's Tomb (1) nest at 123rd Street and Riverside Drive and the 116th Street and Riverside Drive nest (2) are both active with two different pairs of hawks. These are close by to a Peregrine Falcon scrape (3) at Riverside Church, and close to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine nest site (4).
I had always thought Manhattan Hawk and Peregrine nests were like a checkerboard, with each taking different squares, but these three nests are so close together that it defies all that I had believed about nest positioning in the city.
116th Street and Riverside Drive
The last time I visited the West End Avenue/Riverside Park nest, it looked like there had been a hatch. Today, it was clear based on a little head that kept showing up. We'll figure out how many in a week or two.
A brief visit to the nest caught the female feeding, but it was unclear who and how many. I suspect the nest has just hatched and will need a visit in a week or two.
We have so many Red-tailed Hawk nests in New York City, I can't follow all of them anymore. But I did get to a few this weekend. I visited Sheep Meadow and Fifth Avenue on Saturday and all is good there. And I visited St. John and Riverside/West End on Sunday.
(For news of the uptown nests, visit the Morningside Hawks Blog.)
The St. John nest is in a new location on a turret above the statue of St. Peter on the rear of the Cathedral. It's one saint to the left of St. Andrew, where the nest has been for a number of years. Construction of two new apartment buildings most likely encouraged the move. The new nest is not protected from the rain, so it will be interesting to see how things turn out.
The nest on West End Avenue looked fine. The female was visible for a few minutes about every twenty minutes.
I went exploring today to CCNY and West End Avenue.
No sign of eyasses at CCNY. The nest shows no slices, but does have a fresh set of leaves in it. Too confusing to figure out what's up.
The West End Avenue nest has a single eyass. It turns out it had had three eggs, two of which has hatched, with one eyass dying shortly after hatching.
I've been trying to tie up loose ends about this season in Manhattan, and West End Avenue is one of the nests I hadn't heard news about. When I arrived shortly after a visit by the male, the female looked to be feeding an eyass briefly. It then sat down fairly low on the nest.
My guess is that we might have one egg hatched with other to follow. But I would suspect it will be much easier to figure out in a week.
The Riverside hawks are back at the same location as last year, a building on West End Avenue. The nest looks good. While I was there today, the hawks were looking at the nest and seemed to be saying "its just right" and ready to go. But they don't look to be nesting just yet.
Only one eyass remains on the nest at West End Avenue/Riverside Drive. It's unclear if we had a death or a premature fledge. Given the dates when it disappeared, a death is most likely. We'll know later in the season depending on how many fledglings end up in the park.
Update 6-15-2003: I received an email that one of the eyasses did die after two days of rain a few weeks ago.
The Riverside Park hawks have eyasses that are old enough that they can easily be seen now. It makes it much easier to watch the nest. Tonight there were a number of visits by both parents, and a Northern Mockingbird harassed both of them.
Last year, the location of the Riverside nest ended up being uncertain. This year, it's clear where it is located, on the west side of a West End Avenue building on a top floor fire escape. (The neighborhood is a little worried that someone will disturb the nest given it's location, so forgive me if I don't give complete directions.)
The male visited twice and an eyass was seen very briefly (after 6:40 on the video). Neighborhood hawk watchers have seen two heads pop up. The eyass count is just a guess at this point. We'll have to wait a few more weeks to have an accurate count.
These hawks are the pair that replaced the poisoned pair from the boat basin.
Every breeding season in New York City, we have lots of nests that work like clockwork. This year, this seems to be Washington Square Park, Fort Washington Avenue, Inwood Hill Park, Fifth Avenue, CUNY Uptown and St. John seem to be in this category this year. (I haven't had a chance to see what's up on Randall's Island, but that I suspect is fine.)
Then we have mysteries or mishaps. The Highbridge Park nest had problems, and a new one was built recently. In Central Park three pairs of hawks, one at the south, one in the northwest and one in the northeast, are all trying to get established.
The most confusing though is Riverside Park. After a few seasons of tragedies, last year two new hawks failed to make a nest although they tried on a number of fire escapes. This season, two hawks have been reported in the 90's of Riverside Park. I went to see them today, but came away with more questions than answers.
I got to the new female hawk at Riverside. She copulated with her mate while I was photographing. While we've had a number of hawk deaths this season, her presence reminded me that the Red-tailed Hawk population of New York City continues to increase.
Within the last few weeks there have been four dead Red-tailed Hawks found on the Upper West Side: three in Central Park, and one in Riverside Park. The hawks were:
- A juvenile that was in the North Woods of Central Park
- Lima, Pale Male's mate of a year
- An older hawk in the SE corner of Central Park
- The female of the Boat Basin nest in Riverside Park
While necropsy results are still pending, the likelihood that rodenticides were the cause of death is an urban reality.
As hawks have made a comeback in New York City over the last twenty years, we're seeing the issues hawks face living in the Big Apple.
I know from personal experience that we have lots of allies in this effort, including the Parks Department, the Central Park Conservancy, the Department of Health, NYC Audubon, and others. While we figure out how to turn our anger over these deaths into action, we need to be careful not to attack our allies.
This is an incredibly complex issue. A few hundreds raptors in New York City aren't going to limit the rat populations. Controlling rat infestations utilizing methods that have the least potential for negative impact on wildlife is going to take years of incremental change. We'll need the help of all our allies as we tackle long term issues, such as improving sanitation and reducing poison usage.
It isn't publicized enough, but behind the scenes, there are many people working to protect raptors in the city. So, rather than attacking our friends over these deaths, we should approach the Riverside and Central Park staff, not with the question "Why did you kill our hawks?", but with the questions "How can I help you protect our hawks? And what support do you need from me?"
I haven't been up to Riverside Park since last summer, so I decided to make a visit. The female has a new mate to replace the one poisoned last year. He's banded and when possible, I'll try and read the numbers.
The female was rebuilding the nest when I arrived. She brought at least three branches to the nest before going off to join her mate on the Normandy building.
I was in Riverside Park tonight, not only to visit the hawks but to discuss outstanding hawk safety issues with John Herrold, Riverside Park's Administrator.
John Herrold had news of the necropsy results and it looks as though the second generation poison brodifacoum was the cause of death, and not bromodiolone which was used near the Boat Basin Café. This would point to buildings along Riverside Park which use brodifacoum rather than the park itself. (Changing poisoning habits outside the park will be much more difficult than influencing park policy, I'm afraid.)
Mr. Herrold talked about how concerned and knowledgeable his staff was about the hawks. It was good to hear that Riverside Park had the hawks on their radar.
Mr. Herrold did a great job of listening. We spoke of improving relations between Riverside Park Hawk watchers and the park, possibly having a meeting every March to allow hawk watchers to express concerns for the upcoming season and to meet his staff. Knowing names and faces before a crisis goes a long way.
We also talked about the dumpsters and I learned that the inappropriate dumpster has been removed, dumpsters with lids brought in for the Boat Basin Café, and plans are underway to purchase a solar powered compactor for the marina. So, this issue seems to be close to resolution.
We also talked about poisons in the park. Here he feels, that except for poisons placed near the dumpsters, which believes was done in error, the park has been greatly improving its approach to rat management. He believes that over the last five years serious efforts have been made to reduce rodenticide use, by introducing traps, limit garbage, etc.
I asked if he could evaluate the period poisons prohibited around a nests to possibly have them start when nesting begins and also to evaluate the use of underground application of loose poisons rather than using bait boxes. He said he would look into it.
So, it looks like a positive dialog has begun.
The fledglings looked great. Both are being well feed by their mother and one even played on the ground today. So far, so good.
The first eyass fledged on Wednesday according to veteran hawk watchers at Riverside Park. The other eyass also appears to have fledged on Thursday. Last year the parents, continued to feed the fledglings for a week on the nest, so the youngsters continued to sleep in the nest after they fledged. This year, this no rush attitude continues. Although both birds are reported to have fledged, one was hanging out in the nest on Friday.
While there is much joy over the fledging, there is still concern over the father's poisoning by over application of poisons south of the Boat Basin earlier this year. Although there have been positive discussions, I don't think we've cracked the bureaucracy of the Parks Department yet.
Balancing hawk safety and rat control is difficult but three major areas of concern have yet to be addressed by park administrators.
- Proper sanitation is the first priority in preventing rats. If you don't feed them, you won't have them. The dumpster at the Boat Basin is a breeding ground for rats. It is a large dumpster designed for yard waste and not garbage and is sitting in a pile of mud most days. The rats have a field day (or should we say field night) feasting on the garbage here. The dumpster has a gate opening at the back with a two inch gap. The rats just run in and out of the dumpster all night.
While everyone acknowledges the problem and the need to build a proper waste transfer area with a compactor, the Park administrators are claiming a lack of funds. There must be enough income from the café rent to siphon off a small portion to fix this deplorable situation. If not, why isn't this a priority for the Riverside Park Fund?
- The current Parks Department policy is to restrict poisoning during the period of time starting from when eggs hatch until the fledglings disperse in the late summer. I believe the experiences both at Riverside and in Astoria Park warrant a review of this policy and an extension of the restrictions to start a month earlier when the mother begins sitting on eggs. We've had too many poisoning of nesting parents in city parks recently.
- A commitment from Parks to evaluate and consider banning their practice of the underground baiting of rat borrows using second generation anticoagulant poisons. I believe this practice is contrary the recommendations of the EPA, who advises the poisons always be placed within 50 feet of buildings, and in bait stations, unless used against gophers or voles in agricultural settings, where it may be used underground.
Underground baiting allows rats to ingest extremely large doses of poisons before they get sick or die resulting extremely toxic rats.
There is no proof that using baiting stations properly deployed, which are much safer for non-targeted animals, children and pets, are any less effective than loose, underground applications of poisons.
Until we get a positive commitment from Parks to address theses three areas, I don't think we should celebrate. If you are interested in writing, here are some key contacts:
John Herrold, Park Administrator, email@example.com
Robert Weigel, Chairman, Riverside Park Fund, firstname.lastname@example.org
William T. Castro, Manhattan Parks Commissioner, email@example.com
The eyasses at Riverside Park are doing well and should be fledging soon. Thanks to all of the people who supported the single mother. Up to now things have been doing very well, considering the death of the father.
The Riverside Park pair of Red-tailed Hawk eyasses is really close to fledgling. I wouldn't be surprised if one is off the nest by Memorial Day. Today they did lots of wing flapping and branching. Their tails look a little too short and some feathers haven't grown in on their heads, but otherwise they look pretty close to being ready for their first flights.
The Urban Park rangers have been doing a great job of helping the single parent mother feed the eyasses, by putting out food. I think this made a major difference for the outcome of this nest. The Rangers have also put up posters with simple do's and don't about how to respect the hawks. The posters remind dog owners to keep their dogs on leash.
There aren't enough Urban Park Rangers or Parks Enforcement Police to enforce the leash laws in Riverside Park, so it is helpful if the hawk watching community talks to owners of dogs who have their dogs off leash. This doesn't have to be an adversarial discussion. Last year, the mother would swoop over any loose dog that was chasing squirrels the week before they fledged. So, the issue is not only a hawk safety issue but also a dog safety issue.
The eyasses at Riverside Park are in that awkward stage where their flight feathers are starting to grow in. It's a good time to watch then, as you can figure out how wing and tail feathers work as they grow in.
The mother continues to hold her own, and is being supported by an Urban Park Ranger who is helping by leaving rodents near the nest.