Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The curtain is rising

photo: Lincoln Karim

Your posting today concerning deliberate nest refurbishing at both Central Park red-tailed hawk nests fits perfectly with red-tail behavior at the NYC latitude.

As noted in the Januarys of previous years, there were moderate hints of nest activities. But now, it's almost February, and the nesting sex hormones have kicked in big time. The hawks now have just one thing on their minds. The days are decidedly lengthening, with a slightly earlier sunrise and a later sunset each day. New minutes of daylight are beginning to accumulate each day, and that's the sole initiator of nesting in red-tails. Nothing gets hawks more excited about breeding than the longer days. Nesting has nothing much to do with anything else, neither food, nor temperature, nor precipitation, nor winds -- nothing but increased daylength.

As expected, the 2006 Central Park red-tailed hawk nesting season has now begun. In six months, there could be as many as six new eyasses ready to soar through the Manhattan air.

Let the nesting (and diligent observations) begin!!

And a note about the now-absent great horned owl. From the beginning, I've been impressed with the hawks' tolerance of so many humans so close to their daily hunting and perching activities in the park. The hawks have simply accommodated their behaviors to those of humans, recognizing that those hundreds of two-legged primates down there just don't matter much.

But all winter I've been rather surprised that the owl hasn't perviously taken its leave. My experience with these giant owls in the wild has been that they are rather intolerant of humans. I think most great-horneds would have exited Central Park after about the second evening of residence. This owl's tolerance of people coming right up underneath its day perches is quite astonishing, and I believe, uncharacteristic. Great horned owls just don't like people (or any other animal) around either their perches or their nests.

Therefore, the owl may have finally given up and left, the plethora of easy-to-kill rats notwithstanding. It may have been a young adult, now flitting about from woodlot to woodlot somewhere in New Jersey or up the Hudson.

Of course, the owl may be seen again in Central Park in just a day or so, and it might take up residence, permanently accommodating itself to humans. If so, that would be wonderful. But if not, owl watchers have had a wonderfully lengthy encounter with this unique species. Out here in the rural wild, we never, ever, get to discover or observe the day-roosting spots of owls, or the night roosts of red-tails. You people -- in the heart of one of the world's greatest cities -- have been able to see things we can't see out in more typical raptor habitat.

We needn't worry about the red-tails, though. They've begun their reproduction show, and it could be a real hit, a double comedy this season. The 927 nest surely will be thicker and more likely to produce eyasses, and the Trump Parc pair is now experienced. Experienced red-tails are almost always very good at replicating their earlier successes.

This should be another exciting year with Central Park red-tailed hawks. The curtain has opened and the play has begun with scene one, with the two pairs bringing new twigs to the two nests. It will be a great drama, and because of all of you wonderful hawkwatchers in the Park, the entire world will be able to see it, even in New Haven or Peoria. For those of us out here who can't get tickets to the theater, we appreciate your firsthand accounts and pictures.

I'm excited!

--John A. Blakeman