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.
The Riverside Park eyasses look great and the two of them are large enough for hawk watcher to get good looks at them often.
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.
There were at least two active eyasses on the nest today. (At this stage, they're too small to know if it's two or three.) If you go watch them, be aware that you can only see them from the ridge by the highway at this stage. All I can say is they're more fun to watch than Easter Bunnies!
Two hours of hawk watching yielded five seconds of eyass footage Thursday. The winds were over 30 MPH, and for the most part I think the mother just wanted to keep them safe and warm, which meant hidden.
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.
Watching a hawk sitting on a nest takes patience! Tonight, at the Riverside Park nest near the Boat Basin, it took lots of patience. The female sat on the nest and almost nothing happened. All of this is a good sign, but it makes for a dull evening.
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.
I seached all of the "regular" spots at Riverside Park on Saturday afternoon for a juvenile hawk only to come up empty handed. I decided to leave the park via the Hippo Playground and at the top of the hill at 90th Street discovered a juvenile hawk perched in a tree.
As it got dark, the juvenile moved a few times before settling into a Ginko tree as its nighttime roost. The tree was in the Joan of Arc park at 91st Street.
This is the exact area used by last year's juvenile.