Raptors really are the solution to many things!

I promised myself that I would check on the Red-tail hawks living in New York City after the sadness at the Estonia White-tail Eagle nest.

“Watching Pale Male or Attack On 5th Ave.” by LarimdaME is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
“Central Park foliage photo-walk, Nov 2009 – 50” by Ed Yourdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As it happens, hawks and falcons have always been my first love. It was an encounter of closer than 15 cm (or 6 inches) with a female Sharp-shinned Hawk that changed my life and it was a fondness for a bonded pair of RTHs raising a family on a ledge of the Bobst Library of New York City University that cemented my bond with these amazing birds. Sadly, the female died in March 2020 from rodenticide poisoning. The University appears not to have reconnected that camera for 2021 for the Washington Square Hawks. Indeed, there are few streaming cameras that I can find. To get images of the birds now, you need to go to one of a few blogs. One of the best was Roger Paw who reported on many of the nests in the urban area. During the pandemic, they relocated outside of the City. Laura Goggins is a photographer (see below) and she has a web site as does D. Bruce Yolton. I note that Bruce is very quick to answer my questions if I have any and his photography work in the Central Park area is lovely. Check him out.

https://urbanhawks.blogs.com/urban_hawks/about.html

Pale Male was the first celebrity ‘bird’ I was introduced to by friends. Look at that cute face with those very dark adult RTH eyes.

“Pale Male” by jamescastle is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Pale Male got his name because he does not have the typical rich brick red plumage – he is rather ‘pale’.

“File:Palemale.jpg” by jeremy Seto is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Pale Male is 31 years old and he has raised hawklets to fledge in his Central Park Penthouse for many years. The address for the nest is 927 5th Avenue right across from Central Park! I told you it was a penthouse – one of the most expensive and exclusive buildings in the city of NY. There was a movie made about Pale Male and the fight to keep his nest on this iconic building. You should watch it as it is extremely inspiring! If you are feeling low, check it out ——- and if you are looking for an interesting movie to watch, check it out.

https://www.thelegendofpalemale.net/

Sadly, for the past two years Pale Male’s mate, Octavia, brooded eggs that did not hatch. This year she has not laid any eggs at all. It looks like it could be the end of twenty-five years of Pale Male raising hawklets to fledge. Hawklets or not – to watch the daily lives of these amazing urban raptors is a privilege.

Bruce Yolton, an avid photographer and the chronicler of the city hawks, took some footage of Octavia on the nest. The couple did not bother with bringing in sticks and building up the nest this year. The stainless steel spikes were put there especially to hold the nest material for this famous Red-tail hawk couple.

To compare, here is an image of the nest when Octavia and Pale Male were raising eyases:

“Food Drop on Pale Male Nest” by jamescastle is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As you can imagine, there are many challenges for hawks and falcons in an urban setting. One of those is rodenticide put out to keep the rats and mice at bay. Of course, anyone that knows anything about these designer poisons realizes that they kill many other animals other than rats! That includes our beloved hawks and falcons but also domestic pets such as cats and dogs who eat or play with the mice and rats. Many do not like pigeons and put poison out for them and, one of a Peregrine Falcons favourite meals is pigeon. Load the city with hawks and falcons, ban the use of rodenticide and other designer poisons, and let the birds do their job.

Of course, there are other obstacles to living a long healthy life and they include the tall buildings that are built close together, window strike, vehicles, and drones to add to the list of things that might injure or kill a hawk. Oh, and hawks chase birds into window wells – the narrow space between skyscrapers – and not able to get out!

One of my favourite pairs of Red-tail hawks is Christo and Amelia who have their nest in Tompkins Square, New York City. Their daily lives are monitored by Laura Goggin, a wildlife photographer who lives in the area. She has produced a short video on the pair and the three eyases for 2021. It is only a minute long.

If you are tired of hearing about wildlife and domestic pets being killed by poison rats and mice, go to this site. They have educational materials and can give you all of the background information you need to fight this issue with knowledge and facts. Go to Raptors are the Solution – RATS. What a fabulous name!

It is a gorgeous sunny 18 degree C day on the Canadian prairies. I have quickly checked on a few of our raptor friends. Iris is asleep in the sun at her Osprey nest in Missoula, Montana; Tiny Tot let sibling #2 have the first part of the first fish arrival at 6:55:18. Tiny knew the best part was later and that mum would feed him! And that is precisely what happened. Maya was feeding the Two Bobs their tea while Legacy is waiting for a food delivery. So, right now, everything seems to be alright in Bird World.

It sure is nice to see the Two Bobs without any injuries following the fish incident on 14 May. My goodness who would have thought a headless fish could have wrecked so much havoc.

16:52 Tea Time for the Two Bobs. 15 May 2021

Thank you for joining me! Grab your popcorn and watch The Legend of Pale Male tonight. It will certainly lift your spirits if they need it.

Thank you to the LRWT and the Rutland Osprey Project. That is where I got my screen shot of Maya and the Two Bobs.

The featured image is Pale Male and this is the credit for that image: “Pale Male and stashed rat” by jamescastle is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Monday Catchups in Bird World

I want to start with this old battle scared Bald Eagle now known as ‘The Warrior’. Perseverance would be a great name, too! This amazing eagle will not give up.

Last fall, in late September or early October, he was seriously injured. His leg was broken and his beak was badly compromised but, he was flying and no one treated him because he was not ‘down’. His leg healed (kinda) and you can see the state of his beak. On 10 February, CT Environmental Conservation Officer Michael Curran, found the Bald Eagle in a ditch unable to move. Lucky for this old fella’, he was taken to A Place Called Hope in Killingworth, CT, USA. He should have been dead. The staff cleaned him up, fed him, and the next day he was still alive and showing all signs of wanting to live. His lead levels were found to be 48.9 – highly toxic. And so a long series of Chelation Therapy began. In this process, EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid)—is injected into the bloodstream (usually through an IV) to remove heavy metals such as lead from the bird’s body.

On 17 February, his lead levels had dropped from 49.8 to 12.5. And on 2 March, they were down to 10.1.

Believe in miracles? I have said it many times but the survival of these beautiful raptors depends entirely on someone willing to take a chance and spend the money! One session of Chelation Therapy costs almost $600 US. The easiest way to fix this is to simply ban the use of lead in hunting and fishing equipment. It is that easy. Every day I read about more and more birds dying from lead toxicity.

On 4 March, the old eagle was doing so well that he was able to go outside in the exterior aviary for the first time since he arrived at the clinic.

And here he is today 15 March 2021 flying around the aviary.

The clinic says that he has difficulty breathing because of the beak injury, especially if he exerts himself. He can fly and has no problems making his target for landing. He can be wobbly when standing. This old fellow who has probably been hungry a lot of his life is very much enjoying the food! I don’t blame him – nice cut up meat in a dish with no rodenticides or lead. Couldn’t be better than that.

If you are anxiously awaiting the Loch Arkaig streaming cam to start, wait no longer, it is now running. We are all awaiting the arrival of Louis and Aila. In 2020, Louis arrived on 5 April with Aila returning on 6 April. In 2019, they both arrived on 4 April.

And the nest that I am waiting for – because Red Tail Hawks and Peregrine Falcons are my true loves – is in Ithaca, New York. The nest is on a light stand on the Cornell University Campus and it belongs to Big Red who is eighteen this year and her mate Arthur who will be five. Arthur has been working non-stop early in the morning to get the nest just right for his mate. I am thinking we will see eggs in that nest in about a week! Yahoo. I promise to make you a fan of RTH’s before they fledge in late July or early August.

And speaking of Red Tail Hawks, it looks like Pale Male – who is thirty-one years old – is actively preparing for this season with his current mate, Octavia. Their nest is at 927 Fifth Avenue on Central Park – the penthouse on the park! D. Bruce Yolton did a short video of Pale Male:

Bruce keeps an active list of all the happenings at the fourteen Red Tail Hawk nests in New York City. (A few are not listed). You can check it out by Googling ‘Urban Hawks’.

If you have not seen the amazing story of Pale Male, all his mates, and the furor that came to involve actress Mary Tyler Moore – the battle to save the nest- then you must watch this film. You simply have to!

https://www.thelegendofpalemale.net/

Here are the Monday beef and bouquets in Bird World: The male Osprey, Jack, at the Achieva Osprey nest in St Petersburg, Florida gets my ‘beef’ for today. It is hot, nearly 30 degrees C and your three kids and your mate are hungry and dehydrating. It is 15:27 – get yourself in gear and bring them a fish and don’t eat the head this time! The Dead Beat Dad Award for this week goes to you, Jack.

The bouquet goes to Louis in the Kistachie National Forest Eagle Nest. This first time Bald eagle dad simply can’t stop fishing. One day there were eighteen on the nest! Stacked! The eaglet and Anna thought they were going to have to sleep on them. Wonder if we could get some of those fish couriered over to St Pete’s for those cute little Osplets? So Louis, first time father, congratulations – you win the bouquet for the week.

Anna is feeding the soon to be named little one on the nest inside the Kisatchie Forest. This little eaglet is so full – almost all day – that it spends much of its time in a food coma. The other day its crop was so big it had a hard time moving. No one is going hungry on this nest! Anna picked a good reliable mate.

One of many meals during the day keep this little one hydrated in the hot bayou of Louisiana. @KNF Bald Eagle cam

The stack of eighteen fish from the weekend is finally dwindling.

Full tummy. Little eaglet in KNF Bald Eagle nest in food coma. @KNF Bald Eagle Nest

Thank you for joining me in Bird World. Take care, stay safe!

Thank you to the following for their streaming cams: Kisatchie National Forest, Achieva Credit Union (St Petersburg, 4th Street), Loch Arkaig Ospreys, and Cornell Labs. Thank you to A Place Called Hope for their dedication to raptors, their belief in the Old Warrior, and for the photos from their FB Page.

It’s Nearly Mother’s Day and I tip my hat to Big Red, a 17-year-old Red Tail Hawk for “Mother of the Year 2020”

If my mother were alive, I hope that she would understand why I am so adamant that a Raptor Formel should be nominated for Mother of the Year 2020.  It was, after all, my mother who carried the duck my father had given me to my grandmother’s every day on her way to work.  There the duck lived in a specially designed ‘cage’ or stayed in the hen house.  On occasion, the duck would join my grandmother and me for a swing on the porch. I know that my grandmother would approve as she had a fondness for all living creatures, as did my dad.

2020 is a very unusual year.  Since the end of 2019, the international community has been paralysed by COVID-19 that has killed nearly three million people as I type this.  Many are without jobs or health insurance.  Entire countries and cities have been under various levels and length of lockdown.  The funeral homes cannot handle the number of dead.  Hospitals have run out of protective gear for healthcare employees.  And there remains uncertainty from world leaders on how to continue to manage this virus.  Is it safe for people to be outside amongst one another?  or should we be locked down longer? When will a vaccine be available? When will people be able to travel? When will schools open? Will people have jobs? Will there be enough food?  The level of anxiety, coupled with the number of people working from home, has caused people to seek solace in cooking, reading, and learning.  Many have turned to nature with the number of individuals watching bird cams sometimes more than five times the norm.  I am one of those people.  I have a fondness for hawks ever since I first stood about a half metre away from a female Sharp-shinned hawk in our garden three years ago.  That moment had a transformative impact on my fondness for these regal birds of prey.

In early March I began following the exploits of a pair of Redtail hawks with their nest on the ledge outside the office of the President of New York University.  They were Aurora and her new mate, Orion.  Having laid three eggs, the pair took turns incubating them so the other could eat.  On the morning of March 26, Aurora did not return.  She did not return that evening nor the next day.  Everyone was in tears and devastated beyond belief.  That pair of hawks symbolised hope for the people watching who were living in the hardest-hit area of the United States at the time.  The virus was so harmful and so many people were dying that the parks were being turned into field hospitals and temporary burial grounds.  One of the members suggested that we switch our attention to the Bird Cams run by Cornell University.  And that is how I met “Big Red.”

Big Red is specifically a Buteo jamaicensis.  Technically this is the order Accipitriformes, and the family is the Accipitridae.  Leaving the fancy language aside, Big Red belongs to one of the most common hawk families in North America.  There are approximately two million.  The birds, along with their nests, eggs, and feathers are protected by treaties on migratory birds throughout the Americas.

Big Red was born in 2003 and was banded in Brooktondale, New York that fall.  When you look at pictures of her, you will notice that she has a large dark red head, nape, and throat and the most magnificent red tail feathers.  She currently resides on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York with her mate, Arthur.  Redtail hawks mate for life.  Arthur was born and fledged in 2016, making him a whole thirteen years younger than Big Red!  Arthur and Big Red completed their first breeding season in 2018; this is their third year for successfully raising chicks.  Arthur has a real pale head, chest and nape, not unlike the notorious Pale Male from Central Park in New York City.  For the last two months, this pair of hawks taught me so much and inspired so many others at a time when the world needed something beautiful.

Big Red is the epitome of dogged persistence and dedication to the task of taking care of her nest, incubating her eggs, brooding and feeding her chicks, and being a model for them for their successful life as raptors.  Since the first records at Cornell in 2012, Big Red has successfully raised twenty-one chicks!  There could be almost that many more uncounted – before the cameras – from 2006 (?) through 2011.

Big Red and Arthur are often seen in the late fall inspecting their nest which is eighty feet above the ground on a lighting tower on the campus of Cornell University.  Hawk nests can get very quiet high and wide as the couple continue to refurbish and redecorate annually. Typically, hawks have one nest, but Big Red and Ezra actually have two. For the last couple of years, they have favoured their current nest.

Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 1.03.57 AM

Sticks and twigs ranging in size between eight inches and fourteen inches are carried from the ground to the site in anticipation of eggs being laid.  Redtail hawks lay between one to four eggs depending on the local food supply.  Typically, Big Red has a clutch of three eggs. Redtail hawks usually incubate their eggs from 28-35 days although in 2012 Big Red sat on her eggs for 35-38 days with the longest being 42 days in 2013.

Observing the weather in Ithaca, New York made me quite happy, actually, to be living in Winnipeg.  There were quite a few days where it was frosty with snow, but on April 17, Big Red found herself encased in ice and snow as she incubated her eggs, ensuring the survival of her chicks.

Below are the three eggs in the clutch. Big Red laid egg number 3 at 1: 23 pm on March 24.  She immediately “told Arthur” and began incubating the clutch.  Both Big Red and Arthur take turns sitting on the eggs until they hatch.

Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 12.15.35 AM

There are several things to notice in this image.  The first is the nest bowl which is lined with soft materials.  Big Red and Arthur will continually maintain the nest bowl, making sure that it is big enough to hold the checks and that they cannot harm their tiny legs and talons.  Second, notice the pine.  The hawks bring these into the nest in preparation for the hatching of the chicks.  They help keep flies and their larvae away and protect the chicks from disease caused by flies.  And third, the bottom left egg has a pip, and the chick is beginning to use its body to crack the shell.  Pipping is when the chick first breaks through the shell with its “egg tooth”.  Sometimes it takes the chick up to twenty-four hours to completely break out of its shell.

pipping red tail hawk

It takes a lot of energy to hatch, and the newborn chicks are often tired for the first day of their lives.  Before long, however, their feathers will have dried off, and they will be covered with white fluff.

J1 hatching and J2 pipping

At first, the chick’s eyes do not focus well, and they do not quite understand what “food” really is and who is feeding them.  There is an awful lot of pecking and bonking that goes on with the siblings.  This settles down after about four or five days.

The chicks are not given names.  They are assigned letters of the alphabet.  In 2012, when Cornell University first installed its hawk cameras, the chicks were given the letter C after Cornell.  In 2013, the chicks were given D and so on until 2020 when the chicks have been given the letter J.

In the image below, the first hatched chick, J1, is trying to take a bite out of J2’s head!

Two chicks

J1 and J2 tiny fighting over a small piece of meat

3 chicks

It is up to Arthur to bring food for Big Red and the chicks.  Arthur’s territory is abundant.  Until the chicks fledge, he will bring chipmunks, squirrels, pigeons, Starlings, snakes, voles, and rabbits to the pantry.  There is never a shortage and viewers have been surprised – shocked even – at the plentiful supply of animals and at the talents of both Arthur and Big Red at hunting.  She has, in fact, brought some meals back with her when she has gone off the nest for a bit.

Arthur filling up pantry on May 1

These chicks have a lot of food security, thanks to the excellent hunting skills of Arthur and Big Red.  The rails to keep them in the natal nest are made out of their dinner.  Pine is scattered about to keep away the flies, and sometimes you could see the chicks sleeping with their head on a furry pelt.

all the food

Big Red fed and kept her chicks warm during a period of dangerous wind and heavy rain on May 1. I don’t think anyone slept that night and there was certainly a lot of emotion, even tears.

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wet2

And she has patiently made sure that each and every chick, from the first to hatch J1 to the tiny J3, is fed.

Here the three of them are lined up for an afternoon meal.  Little J3 is front and right with J2 front left.  J1 is behind both.  The trio managed to eat an entire chipmunk!  That was just one meal.  Big Red is feeding them a lot.  She still spends the night brooding, keeping those chicks toasty warm.  Soon they will sleep on their own at night.  Eventually, they will jump and flap their wings, preparing to fledge.  By then they will also be eating on their own, and Big Red and Arthur will courier food to the nest throughout the day.

3 lined up for a feeding

By the middle of June, all of the 2020 chicks will have fledged.  They will spend the summer learning how to hunt, and by fall they will be gone to find their own territory.  At the age of two, they will get their distinctive red tail feathers, and by three, they will have families of their own.

In the meantime, Big Red and Arthur will enjoy being empty nesters, and by late fall they will again repair their nest on the Cornell campus in preparation for 2021!

All of us who have gotten to know this hawk family and to learn a little about raptor behaviour have been inspired by the sheer dedication Big Red has maintained during the most horrid of weather.  We have watched J1 grow to be four times the size of “Little J3”. We have worried that the little one might be left out.  This was decidedly not the case!  J3 is right up there, and Big Red makes sure each is fed well, that they are safe and warm.  She is currently teaching them to preen their feathers and by observation, J1 today began flapping its wings.