Posted tagged ‘NYC hawks’

Guess Who’s Coming to Lunch, Kestrel Edition

March 25, 2014
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Photo: Janet Rassweiler

My neighbor Janet had an astonishingly beautiful, if rather ferocious visitor for lunch yesterday.

Photo: Janet Rassweiler

Photo: Janet Rassweiler

She was working in her kitchen at midday, when she heard a strange repetitive banging sound coming from the living room. She moved to the doorway, and saw a bird on her air conditioner. This is nothing unusual in itself. Pigeons and mourning doves often perch there.

But this little bird was no dove.

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Photo: Janet Rassweiler

It was a tiny male hawk, or rather a falcon, no bigger than a blue jay, called the American Kestrel.

Kestrels are the smallest raptor in North America with a range from Mexico to Canada. Their populations are in decline in many parts of the continent due to habitat loss and pesticides that kill off the insects they feed upon. Yet the little raptors seem to be thriving in New York City.  Like other hawks and falcons that have adapted to urban life, they find that man-made structures serve their needs quite well. While their big cousins, the peregrine falcons, nest high on skyscrapers and bridges, the little kestrel prefers to raise its young in the broken cornices of old brownstones and mid-rise apartment buildings. Their prey includes insects, small mammals and birds, like the sparrow Janet’s visitor brought for lunch.

Photo: Janet Rassweiler

Photo: Janet Rassweiler

The banging Janet heard was the sparrow’s head flopping up and down on the metal air conditioner as the kestrel pulled with its beak while holding the body down with its feet. (To move more quickly through the slideshow below, hover over the image, then click on the arrows that appear.)

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When the bird had had enough, it flew off with the body in its talons, leaving behind only the beak and part of the head.

Photo: Janet Rassweiler

Photo: Janet Rassweiler

 I couldn’t tell if the brain had been eaten or not, although I rather guess it had, since brains are apparently chock full of nutrients. Perhaps the kestrel ate a quick blast of brain food before carrying off the rest of the sparrow to feed a nesting mate.

The abandoned head reminded me of another dramatic wildlife story that unfolded on my block. One day a few years ago, I noticed a fledgling sparrow hopping about inside the large planter of a nearby building. The little bird was clearly not yet able to fly, and was probably being fed by a parent hiding in a street tree. I made the decision not to intervene, since the planter seemed as safe a spot as any on a city street for a still earth-bound baby bird. Early the next morning, the decapitated dead body of the baby sparrow lay on the sidewalk. The head was nowhere to be found. (I wrote about the fledgling’s predicament, and my own, in Baby Birds and Animals: To Help or Not to Help.)

Had Janet not witnessed the kestrel eating the sparrow, she would be left puzzling over the mysterious appearance of a bird head on her air conditioner.

What a city we live in, my friends. What a city.

What a world.

All photos in this post courtesy of Janet Rassweiler.

Red-tail at Work

March 10, 2014

I’m not sure what to make of the collection of twigs amassed by the Cathedral Red-tailed hawks atop Saint Peter’s canopy.

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I posed the question on Twitter, and love the response I received from Robert of Morningside Hawks: “If they were predictable, they wouldn’t be wild. And sometimes they do weird stuff because they know you’re watching.”

For now, at least, the hawks seem to be focused on refurbishing the old nest on Saint Andrew’s mossy shoulders.

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When I arrived at the nest this morning, it appeared empty. But as I crossed Morningside Drive to enter the park, I looked back toward the Cathedral in time to see a hawk swooping in from the north to disappear from view behind the saint’s head.  Although I could no longer see the bird, I could see twigs moving as the hawk rearranged nesting materials.

Then the hawk hopped onto the old man’s head and looked out over the park and nearby streets.

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What a view.

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Somehow, the poor saint looked especially sorrowful this morning, and the hawk, well, hawkish.

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After a few minutes, the big bird spread its wings and soared off to the southeast.

Fledgling Red-tailed Hawks in NYC (video)

June 19, 2013
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Fox and dog: the iron animal gate at St John the Divine

Oh my readers, I have so much to tell you, so much to show you. All through the spring, Esau the dog and I have been walking, looking and listening. I’ll try to catch you up on some of the curious, intriguing, and amusing things we’ve seen. But where to begin? Let’s start with the hawks that nest on the back of the Cathedral of St John the Divine.

Here is a fledgling hawk on the move this morning.

A fledgling hawk on the move in NYC.

A fledgling hawk on the move in NYC.

But let’s back the story up a little. In April, three eyasses (baby hawks) hatched.

About two weeks ago, one youngster could be seen practicing its flapping skills on the fingers of good Saint Andrew.

Almost fledged.

Almost fledged.

A second fledgling had left the nest too soon, landing on a ledge far below the nest. There it stayed for a few days, not ready to fly, calling to its parents.

Calling for food and attention.

Calling for food and attention.

 It called and called in its high voice, but appeared active and healthy. It’s not unusual for baby birds to fall out of a nest before they can fly.  Most of the time, the parents will continue to feed and care for their young, as they did with this fellow. (Morningside Hawks has documented visits by the parents, including the delivery of a dead pigeon to the hungry baby.)  On the day of these photos, the hawk stayed for a while in one spot, on the ledge.

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Nice pantaloons.

Then it started to move around. It studied the stained glass window.

Studying the art work

Fascinating.

It climbed the walls.

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It worked its way along the narrow window ledge to a difficult spot.

IMG_2205There it seemed to lose its footing, which led to some serious flapping.

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And then, after returning to a better perch, more yelling.

IMG_2174And yet more yelling.

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Here is a short video of the young hawk, listening to a siren from St Luke’s Hospital, looking around, preening, and calling.

More on the young hawks soon.

NYC’s Hawk-a-Day Club

March 18, 2013
Atop the head of Saint Andrew high on the Cathedral of St John the Divine.

Atop the head of Saint Andrew high on the Cathedral of St John the Divine.

I’m a charter member of NYC’s Hawk-a-Day Club. Anyone can join, and the entrance requirements are, well, not too tough. Basically, all you have to do is spend some time outside, preferably in or near a park, and look up. Because these days, the city’s raptors, particularly its burgeoning population of red-tailed hawks, are pretty easy to spot.

Over the course of the past six weeks or so, I’ve regularly – even, yes, daily – seen red-tails…

in Riverside Park.

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Red-tail in Riverside Park at dusk.

On the back of the Cathedral of St John the Divine.

Nesting on the shoulders of St Andrew.

Nesting on the shoulders of St Andrew.

In Central Park.

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Red-tail (Pale Male?) near Fifth Avenue.

On a high-rise near Morningside Park.

High above the city.

High above the city.

On another high rise on Broadway between 109th and 110th Streets – on the same spot where I recently watched a pair of hawks copulate.

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On a tree near the statue of General Franz Sigel at 106th and Riverside.

Hawk above 106th and Riverside.

Hawk above 106th and Riverside.

On a water tower, looking over 110th Street.

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Beautiful.

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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.

Squirrels Taunt Hawks, and Pay the Price

February 8, 2011

For the past few months, I’ve seen red-tailed hawks almost every day on my walks with Esau in Riverside Park or on the upper boulevard that runs parallel to Riverside Drive.  The bare branches make them easy to spot, and they seem always hungry and on the look-out for prey.

They often choose to perch in spots where they can keep an eye on promising activity both inside the park and along the Drive.

Red-tailed hawk gives me the hairy eyeball.

Sometimes they open their great wings and soar right over your head on their way to a better look-out.

Beautiful.

On the coldest, bitterest days of winter, the park appears almost empty of wildlife. The squirrels are hidden in their leafy nests, curled into their bushy tails for warmth. The songbirds, too, are out of sight, huddled in the warmest spots they can find.

A long walk on a cold day revealed only a couple of sparrows near the Forever Wild bird feeder, puffed up like miniature Michelin men.

Baby, it's cold outside.

Later that day, on the upper path, a juvenile hawk tried unsuccessfully to snatch a pigeon from a small flock that pecked for seeds on the snowy sidewalk.

It must be hard to be a hawk in winter.

But then, just a couple of days ago, the weather suddenly turned bizarrely mild, and the slumbering squirrels erupted into demented, spring-like bouts of foraging and carousing.

Walking on air

It was probably the presence of so many mad crazy squirrels that elevated yesterday to a three-hawk day.

This is how it was.

At the 108th Street staircase, a hawk kept a baleful eye on rioting squirrels, looking a bit like a beleaguered security guard at a rock concert trying not to get riled by a gang of rowdy teens.

One squirrel ran up and down the tree trunk right in front of the hawk.

I can see you.

Once or twice, the twitchy little mammal made its way right out toward the branch where the hawk sat, and even stretched its body toward the bird.  The squirrel would then quiver with excitement for several seconds, as if it had taken a dare, and was trying to get up the courage to actually touch the big bird.

A second squirrel then joined the first, and the two of them played chase just a few feet from the hawk.

Joining in the ruckus

What is it with squirrels? Why provoke an animal capable of catching and devouring you?

I’ve seen this behavior quite often in the park, and am baffled by it. Oh, I understand that squirrels in a tree are probably quite safe, as the hawk must swoop down with force, talons first, to catch and kill.  But being safe doesn’t explain the behavior. What evolutionary benefit can there possibly be for squirrels to get so unnecessarily close to a powerful predator?

Take a look at what we saw just two blocks away, when we resumed our walk.

Yup, that’s a second red-tail with a partly-eaten squirrel. The hawk is uneasy about being watched from above by yet another red-tail.

Third hawk keeps an eye on second hawk’s lunch.

Just a few weeks ago, I posted a story with several close-up shots of a juvenile red-tail lunching on squirrel inside the park.

Yum.

So what in the world is up with the squirrels? Why do they tempt fate?  Why get close to a predator?  How can this behavior possibly serve the squirrel?  Why doesn’t instinct keep them away? Is there such high evolutionary value to curiosity or boldness in squirrels that the trait overcomes a natural fear of being eaten?

Dear Reader, if you know the answer or have a good theory, please leave a comment.

Update March 3, 2011: This post is now part of I and the Bird #145, a birding blog carnival.
Please visit the wonderful British Columbia blog, Island Nature, for links to more bird posts.

Saint John the Divine: A Secret Garden in Morningside Heights

April 19, 2010

The grounds of Saint John the Divine Cathedral in Morningside Heights are stunning.

The secret garden at Saint John the Divine

They are also open to the community for strolling and contemplation.Peacocks roam freely through the gardens.

White peacock strolls in its gardens

or parade along ledgesWhenever they choose, the peacocks can retire to their large coop to watch the world go byFlowers bloom everywhere

and brass birds keep watch

Crazy Mohawk bird

Griffon in the garden

Friendly dove

At the back of the Cathedral, high above Morningside Heights, a pair of red-tailed hawks nest on the shoulders of a long-suffering saint

Photo by rbs at bloomingdalevillage.blogspot.com

Saint John the Divine is a magical place. Come visit.

Please stop by Bloomingdale Village for more photos of Saint John’s resident hawks. Although I have not seen them, the babies have apparently hatched.


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