Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Phoebe was first

The Phoebe was first. Now, the Pine Warbler,[seenby Malcolm Morris in the North Woods today] the Golden-crowned Kinglet, and the Wilson's Snipe have arrived. All pretty much on schedule. The daffodils are opening. The Cornelian Cherry is blooming. The Andromeda is blossoming. Looks like we're going to squeak by with a real Spring one more year.

DATE: Thursday, 31 March 2005
LOCATION: Central Park
OBSERVERS:Mary Birchard, Bob Brooks, Marty Sohmer, Jack Meyer

Double-crested Cormorant (Lake.)
Great Egret (Lake.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Lake, near hernshead.)
American Black Duck (Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (Several, lake.)
Bufflehead (Turtle Pond.)
Ruddy Duck (Lake.)
Cooper's Hawk (Flyover, ramble.)
Red-tailed Hawk
Wilson's Snipe (Flyby, Humming Tombstone.)
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Feeders.)
Downy Woodpecker (Several.)
Eastern Phoebe (More than recent days.)
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee (Many.)
Tufted Titmouse (Several.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Several.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Near Tupelo tree.)
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing (Several, ramble.)
Fox Sparrow (Several, more than previous.)
Song Sparrow (Several.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (Several.)
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
House Finch (Feeders.)
American Goldfinch (Many, feeders.)

3/31/05 -- As the spring migration is about to accelerate -- [Adele Gotlib saw a Pine Warbler in the Ramble yesterday!] here is a stunning picture of a late winter visitor -- a Cedar Waxwing -- taken by ARDITH BONDI on March 16, 2005.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Central Park Report

SITE; Central Park
DATE; WEDNESday, 3/30/05
OBSERVERS; Junko and Pat
REPORTED BY; Pat Pollock

American Woodcock (North Woods)
Eastern Phoebe
Hairy Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Pinetum)
Fox sparrows
Red-bellied woodpecker
Black-crowned Night Heron
3 pr. Hooded Mergansers - Res. - southside
Mockingbird - Meer
Ruddy Ducks


3/30/05 -- 8:30 a.m.

This morning a small group of birdwatchers standing in the Ramble near the Tupelo Meadow saw Lola land on a low branch directly in front of them. They raised their binoculars and gave her a close inspection. After 5 or so minutes had passed they saw her suddenly extend her legs and raise her bottom end high. "Run!" one of them called out. They narrowly avoided getting zapped by a large stream of wet white hawk excreta that landed just where they had been standing. Thus they narrowly missed the good luck that many saw will follow a human who is graced by a bird-poop bulls-eye.


[See Donna Browne's Field Report below for details]

Field Notes Tuesday, 3/29/2005

Sunset 6:17PM,
Temp. 48F,
Wind Variable, Gusts to 22MPH,
Clouds, Rain, then Sun,
Prey Tally-None Seen,

1:12PM Nest exchange, Pale Male to nest, Lola off.
1:34PM Pale Male off nest and perches railing of
Stove Pipe. Lola settles into nest.
1:43PM Lola head up, alert looking west.
2:04PM Pale Male up from railing, flies west.
2:12PM Pale Male appears out of the south, flies over
Fifth Ave buildings, over 927 and then west.
2:20PM Lola alert sitting head to N, but looking W.
2:59PM Lola stands, turns eggs with tail to bench.
3:18PM Lola leaves nest, flies W. Nest unattended for
30 seconds.
3:19PM Pale Male arrives from W, flapping wings, and
takes over nest.
3:34PM Lola returns, Pale Male off.
3:35PM Lola turns eggs, tail to bench, then settles
4:20PM Lola alert, looking S.
4:33PM Lola stands, preens breast and neck, turns
eggs, then down, head to SE.
4:40PM Lola shifts position to face W.
4:47PM Pale Male discovered left corner of railing of
Stove Pipe.
4:49Pm Pale Male chases gull to W.
5:04PM Pale Male brings twig to nest and Lola flies N
up Madison, then to Stove Pipe, perches forth level
down on NW.
5:05 Pale Male turns eggs then settles down with head
to SE.
5:18PM Lola returns, stands on S end of nest. Pale
Male remains enscounced in nest. Lola surveys
territory, works beak. Pale Male remains on eggs.
Lola leans over and prods him with her beak. Pale
Male gets up and flies N. Lola settles in facing N.
5:25PM Lola shifts position, head to SE.
5:27PM Gusting wind causes Lola's rear feathers to
become sail-like which flips her bottom up, nearly
somersaulting her over. She shifts position, head to
wind, NW. Settles deeply into nest.
6:15PM Pale Male seen over Boathouse.
7:20PM Exit, Pale Male's roost not found.
Submitted-Donna Browne

Tuesday, March 29, 2005



3/29/05 ---Today after the Feeder-Filling get-together at the Evodia Field, Lincoln Karim and I walked to the North Woods to try to see the Screech Owl Family. Almost everyone besides us had already seen the Fabulous Fivesome. We headed to the little wooded area a little east of the Pool and there met Jim Demos, who was also Owl prowling. He, however, had seen them before, five times, to be exact. [Jim Demos is the man who achieved birdwatching fame last December when he discovered a highly unusual owl, a Boreal, in an evergreen near Tavern On The Green.]

We split up and diligently searched for at least an hour. At the northeast corner of the Pool, just where the downhill path to the Loch and Wildflower meadow begins, we finally converged, and ran into three other birdwatchers looking for the owls. We chatted for a while about our unsuccessful search.

At this point it was 3:00 pm and I, consumed with guilt about work undone, left for my office. A few minutes after I arrived Lloyd Spitalnik called. They had found the owls. Where? In a small pine at the northeast corner of the Pool. just where the path to the Loch and Wildflower Meadow begins.


sent by Pierre Henkart, a biochemist/immunologist in Bethesda, MD:

Reading your discussion of why female red-tails are larger than males (reverse sexual dimorphism, or RS D), I got curious about this and have ferreted out some interesting material from the internet. In particular, there is a recent PhD thesis by PG McDonald describing a study of Australian brown falcons that seems potentially relevant to our red-tails. It attributes RSD in the falcons to “intrasexual selection” among the females (in which larger females compete more successfully with other females for access to males with breeding territories), as well as increased mortality of larger immature males and greater breeding success of larger females. The female competition idea seemed to be in line with Pale Male’s quick replacement of mates over the years. In any case Chapter 7 of the thesis contains the most relevant material, including a summary of the 20 hypotheses proposed in the biological literature to explain RSD. Something close to this chapter was recently published in the biological journal Behavioral Ecology, vol 16, pp48-56 (2005; alas, not freely web-accessible). The full-blown academic style with data tables, statistics, etc., may be hard to swallow for some, but I would really love to get John Blakeman’s thoughts on whether the proposed explanations for brown falcon RSD apply to red-tails. The whole thesis (200 plus pages) can be freely accessed at: [See link below]
Since none of the simpler explanations seem to work to explain RSD, it may be worth the effort to see what some of the professional bird biologists think.

Click here for text of thesis

Sunset 6:16PM,
Temp. 43F,
W. Chill 38F,
Heavy Rain,
Wind ENE Gusts to 15 to 25 MPH,

3:49PM Heavy rain, Hawk not visible in nest. Mallards
out of Boat Pond sheltering under shrubbery S of Hans
and browsing in standing water on lawn.
3:59PM Dog appears, ducks back to pond, very wet Lola
head appears above nest.
4:02PM Lola disappears into nest, rain continues.
4:25PM Mallards out of pond return to Hans area.
4:40PM Mallards chased by dog back to pond. Lola head
up, then down.
4:43PM Very wet Lola stands, much digging with feet,
she turns eggs. Preens, looks to be striping water out
of breast feathers. Pelting rain begins, she quickly
settles into nest.
4:50PM Mallards tuck bills into wings.
4:51PM Lola head up, alert, then disappears into nest.
5:09PM Male Cardinal appears for daily peanut, he then
cracks it open and feeds mate in Cornelian Cherry
directly behind bench.
5:11PM Lola still not visible.
5:12PM Central Park path lights come on.
5:15PM Exit, no hawks in sight.
Central Park puddles over 9 inches. Much soil from
denuded portions of Pilgrim Hill washed into path.
Submitted: Donna Browne



Like others, I appreciate your posting of the kestrel notes. The species was the first raptor to invade and abide in urban areas, in the 19th century with the construction of taller buildings.

I don't think we want this website to stray too far from Central Park's red-tails, a central story theme of your wonderful webpage. But because American kestrels (formerly called "sparrow hawks") can be so commonly encountered in every city of any size, their appearance here only adds to the urban hawk story. These delightful little falcons are full of spunk and inhabit cities without inhibition.
Urban hawk watchers should be aware (as many certainly are) of this engaging species. It was the first raptor I worked with, and I shall never forget its wonderful personality. These little falcons always act like they are the size of gyrfalcons, uninhibited by hardly anything they encounter in the city.

In rural areas, they share one trait with the red-tail that keeps them from being held in universal high regard -- they are merely common. Personally, I don't let commonality restrict my respect and esteem for either species. Some folks think they have to go to the Arctic to see a wild gyrfalcon, or to Africa to see a hawk-eagle of some sort to be "significant." For me, the kestrel and red-tail are quite sufficient. As visitors here can see, there is still much to be learned about these common species, and always much to be thrilled by. I'll leave the gyrs and African raptors to others. My spirits rise when I see a rural kestrel or red-tail -- and even more so at the sight of one in the city.

[And may I help everyone get the pronunciation of "gyrfalcon" right? I know, it looks like it should be "GIRE-falcon." But like so much else dealing with raptors used in early falconry, the bird's name derives from some antiquated terms from a former time in the development of English. The proper modern pronunciation is "JERR-falcon," spelling notwithstanding. And technically, a male gyrfalcon is called the jerkin, pronounced as spelled.

I hope this helps someone new to all of this. I embarrassed myself royally before some professors as a freshmen when I made some revelatory comment in class about a "gire-falcon." Oh, well.]


John A. Blakeman


Steve Watson writes that there are FIVE eggs now in the box, and incubation has begun.

Photo by Steve Watson
Pair of Kestrels nesting in a Santa Clarita nestbox near home of photographerA NEW SPECIES OF HAWK FOR BLAKEMAN TO COMMENT ON


Wondering if you could ask your friend John Blakeman if he knows of any way to identify individual kestrels. We have a pair that has moved into the nestbox we installed, and we're watching anxiously via the nestbox cam (and hundreds of people are watching on the Internet) to see how many eggs she lays (3 so far) and how many chicks hatch, etc. But we've begun will we know if they come back next year, if this is the same pair, or a different one? I'm *terrible* at individual bird identification, even for large raptors (I'm much better at large mammalian predators, like wolves) do these small falcons have any unique *individual* markings that we could observe?

Here's a quick pic of our two...quite the couple, don't you think? I'm sitting her watching her sleeping soundly right now :) It's actually more entertaining than any "entertainment" on television!

Stephen H. Watson

Here's Blakeman's helpful response:


As it happens, I worked with probably a dozen or so American kestrels along with my red-tails in my undergraduate research on raptor caloric requirements at varying temps. I know the species well.

Each bird will be different, with unique feather patterns on the head and chest. Detailed close-up pictures of these can reveal individual IDs. But even as an experienced expert, this gets too far beyond tedious . Occasionally a bird will have a feather or two that is quickly diagnostic, but in most cases it's going to be lengthy periods of time comparing jpeg after jpeg. I don't recommend it. It's frustrating and ultimately confusing.

The far better approach --one that can really work -- is to get the eyasses banded. Check with the California wildlife authority, or a local US Fish and Wildlife Service office and ask for a raptor bander. Tell them the unique situation you have. Banding of eyass kestrels causes no problems. The adults are back feeding the young just about as soon as the bander closes the door on the nestbox. An ornithologist at any of the local universities should know of a bander.

You might ask the bander to apply colored bands, for easier ID. This may not be authorized by USFWS, as they prefer to do this only with important research birds but give it a try).

As always, I'm very interested in what the adults are feeding the eyasses. I have no idea what Pasadena kestrels feed their young. I presume insects are a notable fraction of the prey, but what mammals are being fed? I don't think you have the common vole (Microtus spp.) there. I may be wrong.

Keep me posted.


John A. Blakeman

PS: In the next communication, Watson informed Blakeman that the kestrels seemed to be eating mainly lizards.

Here's a link for Steve Watson's Kestrel Webcam

Birder Bob Brooks writes:

On Sunday 3/27/05] a 2nd winter Icelandic Gull, in amongst the herring gulls out on the island in the reservoir, gave us a great show through my scope. I never would have seen it but not for the other person since I usually ignore the gulls. I was looking at the hooded mergansers through my scope when he approached and got the gull in my sights. We then zoomed to 45 power and had a great show. We watched it for about 30 minutes. We verified all the points in Peterson and Sibley. My first Icelandic and very excited to see this beautiful creature and I will never again ignore the gulls.

Bob Brooks

Monday, March 28, 2005



I know that a number of readers who admire John Blakeman's illuminating essays are coming to understand more about falconry and rethink some of their views. The letter below, from a falconer in Scotland, gives another insight into the rare relationship between falconer and hawk. Most of all it reminds me of relationships I have observed [and enjoyed myself] between people and their beloved pets ---dogs, cats, parrots, rabbits, etc.

Hi there. I'm emailing you from Dundee, Scotland, U.K.

...It's amazing that we can share the joys and sadnesses of the life of a family of hawks although we are thousands of miles apart! It is also incredible that I can update myself on what is happening daily on the web site and feel a part of it all!

In Scotland we do not have wild red tails, but have their very close cousin the common buzzard. I am a falconer an artist and writer, and my own falconry hawk, Eva is a female redtail bred in Wales and brought to Scotland by myself three years ago. She is an amazing creature with an overdose of attitude and personality. She catches her own food and so fulfils her natural instinct and disipates some of the aggresion she has. With me she is cuddly and affectionate, but is pretty aggressive towards others. I wish she could have as much freedom as Pale Male, and I try to have her out hunting as often as possible. She is a source of countless articles and paintings, and a friend when I need a break from the hassles of life.

Thanks again for sharing Pale Male's story with me. I hope he lives a long life as New York will never be the same without him.

Ian R Morrison

Sunday, March 27, 2005



Steve Watson, the Pasadena GHO guy, is also involved with a pair of kestrels that have settled into a box near his house. He comments below on the raptor sexual dimorphism conundrum, based on the fact that kestrels are much, much smaller than redtails.:

"As an aside to the size discrepancy, I read up on kestrels...they are sexually dimorphic in size, but by a much smaller amount...female is only 10% larger than the male. I wonder if there is a relationship between absolute body size and dimorphic difference (smaller raptors are less sexually dimorphic than larger ones)? Hmmmm...if so, I'd have to think about why that might be the case...."

taken on 3/26/05 in the North Woods
The three Screech Owl fledglings