Friday, March 18, 2005


Every year around the middle of March, we Central Park birdwatchers wait for the Eastern Phoebe to arrive. It is usually the earliest songbird in the spring migration, although occasionally another early bird, the Pine Warbler, shows up first. This year Lloyd Spitalnik and I had a bet. I, with the odds strongly in my favor, bet that the E. Phoebe would show up first. Lloyd bet it would be the Pine.

Here is a note in yesterday's New York City Bird Report:

Thursday, Mar 17, 2005

Observed by Tom Fiore.
1, just S. of Blockhouse, high in tree, 'chipping' a bit, but not calling its name.
(eport submitted by Tom Fiore).

Now Lloyd has to take me for lunch at the Boathouse Cafe. That's not the humble cafeteria where we often gather for soup or cofee. The Boathouse cafe is the FANCY RESTAURANT.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

MORE NOMENCLATURE: sp. and etymology of EYAS

MORE NOMENCLATURE: sp. and etymology of EYAS

3/17/05 -- This note came a few days ago from Dennis Sawchuk:

Dear Marie Winn,

I've a quick question regarding the terminology used for nestling hawks. I was reading with a chuckle the correspondance regarding "mating" versus "copulating," and came across the term "eyeass." Having not seen "eyass" before, curiousity prodded me to look up the term online, yet I had trouble locating a definition. I altered the spelling and subsequently found the following on MSN encarta:

ey·as (plural ey·as·es)

young hawk: a young hawk or falcon, especially one bred for falconry
[15th century. Alteration of obsolete nias , from French niais “bird taken from the nest,” from Latin nidus “nest.” Initial “n” lost by misdivision (“an ias”), as in an adder for a nadder --the original word for the snake MW]

So is the correct (and more genteel) spelling "eyas" ? Or is "eyass" simply an altered spelling form; UK versus US english, perhaps? And does this term predominate for falconry only, or for the description of any nestling hawk? Yes, I realize that this is minutia, but it's such an interesting term!

In addition, I echo Debra Lott's thoughts from 2/15/05 in thanking you for your website.


P.S. from Marie: The American Heritage Dictionary [my favorite] spells it eyas also. It gives an Indo-European root for the word: SED -- to sit. [The Indo-European roots it provides are why I love the Am. Heritage Dictionary]
P.S.S I kind of like "hawk babies" instead of eyases.


Louella wrote:

Would you be kind enough to tell me what "Linda 1" or "Linda 6" means? I'm reading the progress of the hawks on the website and I don't understand that.

Thank you for your time.

I answered:

Dear Louella,

Here's the scoop: There's a building two buildings to the south of the Hawk Building that we call Linda's Building because a lady named Linda who once came to the Hawk Bench and identified herself to us lives there. She has an apartment one floor below the top floor that has six windows facing the park. Each window has a little black balcony railing, where the hawks love to perch because it is in sight of the nest. We've numbered her windows from North to South: Linda One to Linda Six. This is for purposes of quick IDing to all the hawkwatchers. So if Pale Male suddenly appears and lands there someone will say Pale Male at Linda 3.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Pale Male News

Wednesday, 3/16/05 --3:20 p.m. [From Lincoln's website]
Pale Male leaving after spelling off Lola at incubation duty on the nest. She will now sit through the night while he will roost for the night a few hours later, within sight of the nest.[See below]

At 6:22 p.m. Pale Male flew to a pin oak at the base of Pilgrim Hill, just a little south of the Hawk Bench, to roost for the night. He preened for about ten minutes. By 6:45 he was asleep, his head tucked under his wing. Just above him in the sky was the moon, a day or two less than half full. Saturn was shining brightly to the north of the moon, the only planet visible these days.

Lola, meanwhile, was spending the night in the nest, as she has been doing since last Thursday, 3/10/05. There are no more periods of time when the nest is unattended. During the day motions may be seen in the nest that indicate egg-turning . I would say with more confidence now that INCUBATION HAS BEGUN.

Observed by Donna Browne, Marie Winn and a few other hawkwatchers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005



On 3/15/05 I wrote to Peter Post, a highly accomplished birder who has been birdwatching in Central Park for more than fifty years:

Peter, I've been contending that as recently as 1991 [when Pale Male arrived in CP] red-tailed hawks were unusual visitors to Central Park . I'm not talking about flyovers, but birds staying in the park for some period of time. Am I right about this? Marie

Peter responded:
I agree with everything you say, except I cannot specify a year when Red-tails started to come down and actually perch in the park.


I sent this exchange to John Blakeman, with a note stating that I CAN specify 1990 or 1991 as a year when redtails were still rare. That is because Pale Male's arrival created such a great stir.. The appearance of a redtail in Central Park or anywhere else in NYC is pretty everyday now. Here is Blakeman's answer:


Authoritative comments or data on the beginning of red-tail residencies in CP will be very, very useful. If this began in the late 80s, or early 90s, it fits very well with my anecdotal recollections of red-tail saturation of my countryside populations. Illegal shooting and trapping of red-tails declined dramatically in the 80s, as the arrest and citation records of state game authorities would reveal. By the 90s (and continuing today), there were simply no holes, no unoccupied habitats for large populations of maturing young red-tailed hawks. There was, and is, a severe "housing" (open habitat) shortage for red-tails. Tens of thousands of young red-tails are fledged in our respective areas each summer, but these birds simply have a hard time finding unoccupied territories with adequate prey populations. Those are owned and defended by old resident adults. In rural areas with markedly reduced prey populations (compared to the abundance of food animals in Central Park), red-tail territories are large, up to several square miles, and are strongly defended against invasion by young hawks.

If this scenario is an accurate characterization, and I think it is, then the incursion of red-tails into Central Park in the 80s and 90s begins to make a great deal of sense. The species is demonstrably able to adapt its hunting to the unique prey animals of Central Park. Pale Male began this urban colonization, and others have likewise learned to exploit the formerly untouched hawk resources of the Park. A wonderful story. I hope some accounts can be posted of early occurrences of red-tails in NYC.


John A. Blakeman

Now that we're entering a peaceful month of incubation, there's time to return to some of the basic questions about the red-tailed hawk presence in Central Park. It has been suggested that the enormous amount of pigeon-feeding that occurs in the park, and thus the presence of great numbers of pigeons there is what served to attract redtails in the first place. John Blakeman responds:


I'm not so certain that the pigeons by themselves were the only Pale Male prompt to get him to take up residence in Central Park. There have been a lot of human-fed pigeons in CP for decades, and not many red-tails. I still think our patriarch entered the Park because he could find no unoccupied territories in traditional rural habitats. But the plethora of pigeon surely didn't reduce his impulses to stay. A few hundred pigeons competing for a few pounds of scattered grain can quickly lose wariness in a crowd of other food-crazed birds.

And this raises a background question I've pondered. Is the real source of CP red-tail food actually from humans, from scattered bird food and horse-feeding grain? Could it be that the real, basal food resource for our hawks are humans themselves? Looks like it is.The Central Park food web or pyramid is quite different from anything out here in wilder, more rural areas.

How many pigeons would spend much time foraging in Central Park in the absence of human-provided grain? Without human-scattered food, I think the pigeons would be forced to fly across the river over into industrial areas and rail yards and work out a more mundane pigeon life eating natural weed seeds over there. Instead, the birds just fly around a corner or two, up a block or two, and drop down to quite artificial provisions of ample grain. But of course, the rock dove is artificial itself, not being a native species of the Western Hemisphere. Nature continues to evolve here.


John A. Blakeman


Photo by Rik Davis

A story on the front page of today's Metro section of the New York Times:

March 15, 2005


The red-tailed hawks known as Pale Male and Lola, having endured the destruction of their Fifth Avenue nest in December and the ensuing media storm before rebuilding with thousands of twigs from Central Park, appear to have crossed another critical threshold in their unlikely battle for turf in the center of Manhattan.

According to several naturalists and bird watchers who monitor the hawks' behavior closely, there are eggs in the nest.

If so, New York's most celebrated birds have entered a new chapter, fraught with its own peril, in an unlikely saga that has melded raw nature with urban life and captivated bird lovers around the world.

Yesterday, Lola was settled firmly into their nest on a 12th-floor cornice of a Fifth Avenue co-op building at 74th Street, as Pale Male swooped down periodically to provide her with food. The behavior adheres closely to a reproductive pattern that could culminate with the hatching of one to three chicks in mid-April.

"Nature is triumphant," said Adrian Benepe, the commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

To be sure, whether Lola has laid eggs in the hawk's Fifth Avenue aerie, and how many, remained unclear yesterday for reasons that have much to do with the hawks' instincts for nest building and self-protection.

The spot they have adopted, high above Central Park, sits directly beneath a huge and ornately-carved cornice along the roofline. This provides protection from the elements, but also makes the interior of the nest all but impossible to see or photograph.

"We can only draw conclusions from the hawks' behavior, since we can't see in the nest," said Marie Winn, a Manhattan naturalist and author. She has been observing Pale Male and a succession of his mates, who have sired 23 chicks, since Pale Male arrived in 1993.

Ms. Winn said yesterday that the two hawks' behavior in recent days may mean Lola has not yet laid any eggs, but that "eggs are imminent."

There are many signs that nature is taking its course. Although Lola sometimes leaves the nest for short periods, Ms. Winn said, she only does so when Pale Male settles in to take her place.

And close observers in Central Park could not have missed other evidence in early March. For more than a week, with Lola perched on the nearby balconies or roofs of opulent Fifth Avenue apartment buildings, and with Pale Male swooping down from the sky, the two birds copulated frequently, Ms. Winn said.

Pale Male brought an offering of food - perhaps a pigeon or rat - each time he approached, she said.

Ms. Winn said that there may be a lesson in this for suitors: "Always bring a gift."

Monday, March 14, 2005



Lloyd took this shot of what seems to be a coquettish Cedar Waxwing yesterday. He writes

This photo was taken on 3/14/05 just North of Willow Rock. There was a flock of about thirty Waxwings there, eating the fruit of the Sephora tree.

Photo by LLOYD SPITALNIK -- 3/10/05

There was a big Woodcock arrival in the park on Thursday, March 10. [Missed by me, alas. I was in California.]

Lloyd Spitalnik, who took the picture above, writes: I took this photo of an American Woodcock in Charles' Garden [in the parking lot of the Boathouse MW.] There were at least five of them in and around the garden.

At around noon Pale Male snatched an American Woodcock and after being harassed by a Copper's Hawk, flew to the nest and gave Lola a treat.