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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
Tonight, I was thrilled to watch the mother accept food that had been placed out for her around the nest. Her accepting this food makes easier for her to be a single mom.
Eighteen days after warning John Herrold, Riverside Park Administrator that the placement of poisons at the Boat Basin Café was negligent, he responded with the most disingenuous reply. He wrote,
"Dear Mr. Yolton,
Thank you for you messages regarding the Red-tail hawks in Riverside Park. We share your concern for them and I apologize for not responding sooner. Please rest assured we have been actively engaged in working to care for the hawks.
We in Riverside Park are especially proud to have these beautiful creatures living in the park, and take great care to protect them. We are deeply saddened by the death of the male hawk on Sunday.
We will keep you informed as to new developments. Thank you again for your message and concern.
On April 11th, I had warned John Herrold that his staff was negligent by putting out poisons at the Boat Basin Dumpsters in late March. He took no action until he was contacted by Commissioner Benepe days later. His failure to acknowledge that he ignored my email and then his stating "We in Riverside Park are especially proud to have these beautiful creatures living in the park, and take great care to protect them." infuriated me.
Absolute B.S., when you've most likely just killed one of them.
Please call and email his office and ask why he did not mitigate poison usage around the nest this year and what his action plan is to prevent this kind of accident from ever happening again. His email is John.Herrold@parks.nyc.gov (or firstname.lastname@example.org) and his office can reached at (212) 408-0264. If you contribute to the Riverside Park Fund, please consider withholding any donations and let the fund know your reason, until this issue is resolved.
The eyasses you see below deserved two parents.
I could see the mother settling down, as I approached the Riverside nest, so I think I had just missed a feeding. So, I had to be patient and wait for a glimpse of an eyass (hawk nestling). Just before nightfall, I saw two brief glimpses of an eyass, possibly two. They're easiest to see on the video.
The father was near the nest for about half an hour.
Thirty M.P.H. winds made it difficult to observe and photograph the nest Sunday afternoon, but there were positive signs that one or more eggs may have hatched. The mother ate on the nest and appeared to be sharing food. It wasn't conclusive and she may have just been "eating for one", but it did look like she might be feeding. We'll know for sure in a few days.
The father joined the mother on the nest but there wasn't an exchange. Another sign one or more eggs may have hatched.
The bad news is the adult male Riverside Park hawk ate a dead rat on Wednesday around the dumpsters where the Bromadiolone was placed. Reports on Wednesday were that the male seemed lethargic, but he seemed fine on Friday when I was in the park. Since the poison takes 5-7 days to take effect, we've got to keep our fingers crossed. Hopefully, the secondary dose from the rat was low enough not to cause harm to hawk.
Susan B. Elbin, Ph.D., Director of Conservation and Science, New York City Audubon passed along an article from Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, Anticoagulant Rodenticides in Three Owl Species from Western Canada, 1988–2003, Courtney A. Albert, Laurie K. Wilson, Pierre Mineau, Suzanne Trudeau, John E. Elliott. Among the topics the paper discussed was the potential under reporting of deaths caused by non-lethal doses of Anticoagulant Rodenticides. The authors believed that many non-lethal doses which cause lethargy, resulted in increased predation and "accidental" deaths due to collisions and car accidents.
I had always thought about poisons from a perspective of instant "Romeo and Juliet" style poisoning, rather then a more nuanced problem where the poisons act slowly and can cause secondary problems such as infertility in lower doses. Could the two highway accidents in 2009 have been a result not of inexperience fledglings misunderstanding traffic, but a result of non-lethal doses of Rodenticides making the hawks lethargic and therefore misjudging their flight paths? It's impossible to know, but it does suggest that necropsies should be performed on urban hawks, even if cause of death seems obvious.
Now the excellent news... Both Glenn Phillips, Executive Director, New York City Audubon and Leslie Day, author of the Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City and Boat Basin resident have been having productive discussions with John Herrold, Riverside Park Administrator, Dr. Robert Corrigan, who is in charge of DOH's rodent control program and Parks Commissioner Adrain Benepe.
From what I understand the discussions have been positive and both short term and long term results should be forthcoming. I can't thank Glenn and Leslie enough for their efforts on behalf of the Riverside hawk pair. It's clear that everyone involved is committed to finding a solution to this complicated issue.
Discussions have uncovered topics that weren't entirely obvious. For example, while the Parks Department has a conservative approach to applying poisons, restaurants in the park are required by the Department of Health to have a rodent control plan. This introduces independent exterminators, who then potentially over apply poisons in the park without Parks Department supervision or oversight. (We saw this a few years ago at the Boat House Restaurant, which mirrored the situation at Riverside. At the Boat House improved sanitation has greatly decreased issues with rodents, and reduced the needs for poisons.)
It's also been discovered that grass seed is being stored in the open in plastic bags on the lower garage level of the Boat Basin below the café and is attracting rats from the Amtrak train tunnel. Finding a better storage method should become a priority.
I spent about two hours watching the hawks on Friday afternoon. There were no signs the eggs had hatched yet. I saw the father circle overhead, but didn't see him at the nest. (This isn't unusual for this pair in the late afternoon.)
I finally got down to the Riverside Park nest today. Daylight Saving Time, sure helps make it easier to bird watch after work.
The female is already sitting on the nest, and I got to watch the male arrive and allow her to take a dinner break. After this pair's bad luck over the last few years, I hope this year goes smoothly.
The nest is the same as last year's and is along the river around 81st Street.
I've been away on weekends, and it's too dark in the late afternoon to visit Riverside Park after work, so I haven't been able to visit until this Saturday.
While I was away I received reports of the youngster being at the ballfields by the dumpsters south of the Boat Basin, and further north in the 90's and 100's. The youngster's being outside of the parent's territory is a great sign that it's growing up!
When I visited Saturday, I only found the two parents. They were together on a water tower at 81st and Riverside, and both few off towards the south. I found one, perching on various lamp posts above the highway.
I went looking for the youngster, without any luck. As I left the park, I saw a bird perched on a building at 90th and Broadway. I was hoping it was the youngster, but found that it was a Peregrine Falcon, a nice consolation prize.
When I finally found the juvenile Red-tail at Riverside Park it was on the Soldier and Sailors monument on top of one of the decorative eagles. By the time I got my equipment out, the hawk had left! The hawk then when up and down the Promenade a few times before roosting in an Oak tree on the east side of the Hippo playground.
I had a wonderful time watching the Riverside Hawks on Sunday. The juvenile caught two rodents, the mother a squirrel and the father was in his favorite tree by the swamp.
The photos of below and the video contain a great number of images of the rodents being eaten, so if this doesn't appeal to you, feel free to skip this post.