Posted tagged ‘NYC red-tailed hawks’

Black Snow and Nesting Red-tails

February 22, 2014

This morning, a stunningly beautiful, spring-like day popped out of a snowy winter.

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The sky is blue and the snow is, well, black.

How does the pristine and elegant substance of a week ago …

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… metamorphose into the dark, satanic mountain range of today?

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When urban snow reaches this stage, it doesn’t even melt. My theory is that there are now more solid filth particles than there is water in this Substance formerly known as Snow. As most New Yorkers know, these mini-Himalayan ranges will diminish only to a point.  The remaining black metor-like blobs hang around long after the surrounding street snow has melted. A particularly notable example was a giant blob that threatened to become a permanent resident of 108th Street in 2010.

Today was a good day for hawk-spotting. Over on Morningside Drive, one of the Saint John the Divine red-tailed hawks perched above a saint near its picturesque nest before sailing west out of sight.

Last winter, daily hawk sightings led me to found New York City’s Hawk-A-Day Club. This year, fellow New York nature blogger, Matthew Wills of Backyard and Beyond, has seen peregrine falcons for five days straight in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. But my Morningside Heights sightings have been surprisingly scarce this winter.  So I was delighted to see a red-tail on the Cathedral.

The Cathedral nest, which has been occupied since 2006, undergoes renovation each year by the nesting pair. Last year was an especially active year of redecoration, albeit with some questionable design choices. Long, dangling pieces of string kept me worrying all season long that one or another member of the growing family would become entangled. (Look to the right below.)

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But it was the sight last spring of a hawk wrestling with an unwieldy cardboard box or large paper bag that really led me to question the red-tail pair’s eye for design.Below the hawk flies toward the nest with its catch.

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For more on hawk cardboard-wrestling, visit last year’s How to Build an Urban Hawk Nest.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the nest, along with my trusty walking companion, who would rather be scrounging for food. (Mysteriously fallen street strawberries don’t count, in his book.)

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Next week I’ll once again have a camera that will allow me to take some more detailed shots than has been possible with the iPhone that has been my sole camera for the past six months.

That will be fun.

Red-tails in Winter

January 10, 2013

Red-tailed hawks seem to be everywhere I walk these January days.

We tend to think of winter as a quiet, even a quiescent, time for the natural world.

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And so it is for many plants and animals. But for others, including NYC’s Red-tailed hawks, mid-winter actually signals the start of breeding season. In the coming weeks, our local hawks will go a-courting. After all, for us to watch eggs hatch in early spring on NYU’s Bobst Library or a Fifth Avenue apartment ledge, the hawks have to lay those eggs a full month earlier, sometimes as early as late February or early March. Before laying eggs, new pairs need time to build a nest, while established pairs must renovate the old nest. And before they start working on the nest, the hawks have to pair up, bond, and mate.

Red-tails mate for life, but even experienced and bonded pairs engage in elaborate courtship behavior each year as they enter the breeding season. Red-tail courtship often involves dazzling paired flights, when the two birds swoop and circle together, and sometimes grasp each other’s talons as they spiral down through the air, separating in time to spread their wings and soar again.

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In late winter and, indeed, throughout the breeding season, unpaired hawks, whether juveniles or adults that have lost a mate, will be on the look-out for potential partners.  In NYC over the past few years, several hawks have died from rat poison at various points in the breeding season, and we’ve seen the remarkable swiftness with which a new hawk appears and mating begins again.

So look up as you walk in the city this winter. Scan trees, building ledges, statues, and water towers for unusual lumps and bumps that may turn out, on closer inspection, to be a hawk perching and watching for prey.  And if you are lucky enough to spot two broad-winged birds soaring high in the sky, circling and swooping, spiraling and climbing, they may well be a pair of red-tails declaring their devotion and preparing to mate.

The View from my Window: Red-tailed Hawks and City Buses

November 1, 2012

Good morning, New York.

Up here in Morningside Heights, the sounds of the city have almost returned to normal.  It’s the traffic that does it, of course.  The quiet of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was lovely, but strange. The belch and rumble  of buses, back in service yesterday, brought the noise level close to its urban norm.

Mass transit has returned to upper Manhattan.

But even from my perch six stories above the street,  it’s the recurrent rumble of the Number One train up and down Broadway that gives the city soundscape its essential ground-note.  The subways started early this morning Now the only sounds missing are the constant squeals and screams of schoolchildren as they cycle all day through the playground behind my building, and the sharp  hollering through a megaphone of the drill sergeant, er, I mean, teacher, who minds them.  (For those of you not from NYC, school has been cancelled for the rest of the week.)

We did see and hear trick-or-treaters on the street last night.

Trick or treaters head out in search of a sugar fix.

With my mobility still limited by recent foot surgery, I’ve been feeling a bit like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window as I work by the window with camera and binoculars at the ready.

Jimmy Stewart watches the city in Rear Window.

I’ve witnessed no crimes yet. But I’m happy to say that urban nature is everywhere, even outside my window. The pigeons that use my air conditioning unit as a boudoir have come through the storm just fine.

Pigeons outside my window

And at least two of our local red-tailed hawks also seem to be healthy if, perhaps, hungry.  For two days now, I’ve watched red-tails out my window.  Yesterday at around 4 pm, I was drawn to the window by loud and persistent cawing.  Sure enough, several crows were dive-bombing a red-tailed hawk that perched on a tall building across the street. The crows gave up surprisingly soon, and the hawk sat there, surveying the city, for well over an hour.

NYC red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk surveys his domain

The view must be marvelous.

The hawk is on the corner of the tallest part of the pink building.

Gulls filled the skies to the east, calling and soaring, before sailing off toward the Hudson.

Gulls circle over Morningside Heights.

A lone starling perched atop the school just east and south of the hawk.

Starling on roof of school.

No other small birds were visible. I scanned the water towers for more hawks. Nothing to the north.

Water towers.

Nothing to the northeast.

More water towers.

And nothing to the west, where on Tuesday afternoon, I had watched two red-tails briefly perch before taking to the skies, one heading north and the other south.

NYC water towers on the Tuesday after Hurricane Sandy.

As for other NYC red-tails, Urban Hawks reports that Pale Male is fine up on the Upper East Side as is Rosie of Washington Square down in the Village.

Hope the rest of the urban raptor population has done as well.

Hawk of the Day

December 10, 2011

December 9.

As I’ve said before, bare branches make for fine hawk watching.

From late summer through early fall, I wondered where Riverside Park’s red-tails were hanging out. A Parks employee told me to try the playground near Grant’s Tomb, but I found no raptors other than the bird on top of this little structure near the swings.

Hawk on the roof.

But over the past couple of weeks, to my great delight, I’m averaging a hawk a day.

November 13th.

A hawk a day! I see them circling, swooping and perching. They perch on branches.

November 11.

They perch on buildings.

December 6.

And they perch on water towers.

November 8. The crow over head is part of a gang of crows that harassed the hawk.

Today was a two hawk day. In the morning, I saw a hawk perched on a branch inside the park at 108th Street, and this afternoon, I saw one circling high over Riverside Drive and 114th Street. I can only hope I’ll have another opportunity for a close-up view, like the one I had last January, of a juvenile red-tail dining on squirrel.

Meanwhile, welcome back, hawks.

December 6.

Red-tail Eats Lunch in Riverside Park

January 19, 2011

Regular encounters with Riverside’s red-tailed hawks have rung out the old year and are ringing in the new.

Winter’s bare branches make the birds easier to spot. And the truth is, Morningside Heights and Harlem teem with raptors. Look up and out as you stroll neighborhood parks and streets or along the river, and you may see red-tails, kestrels, peregrine falcons or even a bald eagle.

One morning in late December, I scanned the skies and building tops from my window for avian activity.  Seagulls soared to and from the river, a flock of pigeons wheeled in and out of sight to the east, and a lone starling perched atop the school.

On last year’s Harlem Hawk Walk with James of The Origin of Species, I learned to pay attention to unusual bumps on water towers, antennae and chimneys.

Binoculars revealed a large hawk on the right tower. After about 15 minutes, the bird opened its wings and soared east down a side street. It was probably a red-tail, but I couldn’t be sure. I still need up close and personal encounters to identify what I’m looking at.

Later in Riverside Park, a juvenile red-tail obliged.

I almost walked right by, but a raspy cry drew my attention to a tree branch by the path, where a perching hawk sat and watched … something..

I followed its gaze up the slope towards the retaining wall.

Aha.

I tied Esau to a garbage can

and made my way slowly up the slope. The hawk did not seem to mind my presence.

It was intent on devouring a squirrel. The head was pretty much off the little mammal, but much of the body – and the beautiful bushy tail – remained intact.

I watched from a few yards away, while the first hawk watched from the tree branch.

The meal required a remarkable amount of effort. The hawk stood on the carcass to hold it down.

Then the bird tore and pulled with its powerful beak.

The next day, I returned to the spot to see if any signs of the meal remained. I once found a squirrel tail on the upper path and wondered how it came to be there. Now I think I know the answer. I expected to find bits of fur caught in the fallen leaves.

I did not expect to find … utensils.

Ah, the mysteries of the city.

Return to Riverside: Rats and Red-tails

November 9, 2010

With the return of autumn, Esau and I have returned to Riverside Park.

Riverside Drive Promenade

We indulged for months in a thrilling spring-into-summer fling with Morningside Park.

Lush Life: Early Summer in Morningside Park

New goose

Ma, I can fly!

All summer, Morningside’s little pond teemed with animal action. Goslings and ducklings hatched and grew. Bullfrogs, turtles and herons abounded.

Great white hunter

But lately I am again craving the sight of the Hudson River as it laps the long, green finger of Riverside Park.  Subject to powerful ocean tides, the Hudson sometimes runs south to the harbor and the ocean beyond as a river should, and other times it flows north past the George Washington Bridge, carrying its flotsam and jetsam up past the Bronx and the suburbs into the deep interior of the continent.

The river in a peaceful moment

Dazzle-me green

In summer, unless you descend to the lower paths, the park’s dense foliage blocks the river from view. But now that the leaves are thinning, the river calls to us even when we’re walking high above on Riverside Drive.

Yesterday morning, although I appeared to be walking briskly along the parkside of the Drive, I was actually light years away, tracking in my mind’s eye the actions of a young man – well, a fictional character, actually, in a project I’m working on.  A huge hawk, suddenly and silently soaring low past my shoulder, jolted me back into the miraculous common world.

The hawk put out its landing gear and seemed about to touch down on the retaining wall, but changed its mind, landing instead in a tree that grows from twenty feet below in the park.

Hawk in profile

After a minute or two, the bird – I believe it was a juvenile red-tail – moved to a new perch, a few yards south. A single feather poked up above its tail, like an admonishing finger

Signaling

It looked around for a while, then again unfolded its big wings and dropped off its perch.

Through the leaves

It continued to head south from branch to branch, eventually dropping fully into the park to find a spot in the trees below, where we lost sight of it.

I haven’t seen a hawk in this part of Riverside for weeks.  What I have seen in dismaying numbers are rats.  Until this fall, I rarely saw rats along the park side of Riverside Drive. Now I see them every night, running shadows that snatch bits of food from unlined trash cans, pop in and out of holes in the walkway, trot along the top of the retaining wall, and zip through the sandboxes of the children’s playgrounds that dot the Drive.

Rats make a fine meal for a red-blooded red-tail.

Redtail Eating Rat by D. Bruce Yolton: http://www.Urbanhawks.com

May the hawks dine in peace and plenty.

(I am not the only blogging park-lover to stray from a main squeeze.  In Brooklyn, a nature blogger abandons the charms of Prospect Park for a dalliance with lovely Green-wood Cemetery where red-tails, kestrels and merlins haunt and hunt among the graves.)

Note:  This post is part of I and the Bird #138, a regular birding blog carnival.


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