Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Blakeman answers an August question

A question I received received for John Blakeman [reminiscent of earlier concerns about the Trump Parc fledglings] and the Ohio Hawk expert's response:

Hello Marie,
I have an observation for Mr. Blakeman. I live in central Pennsylvania, south of Harrisburg. Our neighborhood is bordered by a forested ridge, a swamp and a military warehouse with an airfield - just giving you an idea of locale. Over the past few days I have heard and spotted a juvenile Red Tail. It's call is the same each time - 3 short "cree"s over and over. It is very loud, I can hear it over the morning PA Turnpike traffic. It sounds distressed. I have also heard, in response a few times, several elongated "cree"s. I am assuming this is an adult calling to the juvenile. The juvenile seems to be flying pretty well and does not seem to be hurt. I've seen it circle with a warm air current updraft, soar from our neighborhood to the ridge and navigate from tree to tree. My concern is that I seem to hear the juvenile quite frequently and I wonder if he is starving? I thought it was late in the season for juveniles to be calling out for food. I have not been able to get close enough to see the bird's condition. (it has not been at our property that I know of or seen) How worried should I be? I'd hate to be observing one of our gifts from nature dying a slow death.

Thank you - Becky
You are experiencing classic August red-tail behaviors of a bird-off-the-nest. No, it's not starving -- yet. But the mournful, plaintive begging cries indicate that the parents are no longer feeding the youngster. It's now on its own for the procurement of food, and just as I previously worried about the Central Park red-tails fledglings, August is the crunch time. It's now learn-to-hunt-or-die. I believe that most of these begging birds in August just don't have what it takes to survive on into the fall and winter. They need lots of prey to hunt (which the Central Park birds obviously have), and they need to be able to consistently capture the food animals. The latter follows the former. Your begging red-tail must first be hunting in an area with abundant prey. Secondly, it must learn rather quickly how to capture that prey each day. From the descriptions of the bird's territory, I'm not so sure it has abundant populations of voles, the primary, sustenance food of rural red-tails. The grasslands at the airfield may work.
Your bird is still flying around, so it's not at the edge of death. But it's loosing weight each day. Someday soon, it will cross an irrevocable tipping point and slide quickly into such weakness that it can't fly. It will curl up under a bush somewhere and quietly die.
Some of these begging birds, however, are in really good shape. They are just rather bratty and fully expect Mom and Pop to continue to feed them as they have in earlier summer. In this case, the bird actually is able to hunt and capture food, but prefers to delay this as long as possible. If it can last until mid-September, it's likely then to ascend to some high winds or thermals and begin migration to the south. These migrating birds grow up very quickly and learn to hunt with alacrity.
Let's hope your bird is one of these. If not, don't lament the poor bird's loss. To do so is to impugn the necessary interplay of ecological forces. Remember, nature (not to be anthropomorphic) is never "concerned" with the fate of individuals. It's the fate of populations that determine the survival of species, not individual specimens, no matter how humanly pitiful might be the plight of the less fortunate. Only the fittest survive, and if a population is to survive, more young than can survive are produced each year.
Here, of course, is where humans should not take lessons from nature. For humans, it's the survival and prospering of all individuals that should be of greatest concern. Each of us should strive to abrogate the cruel laws of nature in the lives of ourselves and our neighbors, worldwide. I mention this because although I don't (much) anguish over the annual deaths of these young red-tails, I try not to assign any such natural fate to my fellow man, claiming, as some do, that it's just "natural." Hence the differences between ethics and religion, compared to ecology and natural history.

John A. Blakeman