Saturday, June 03, 2006

Last two comments from Chris Lyons

Hawkeye and Rose, the Fordham pair [ before their 3 chicks hatched]
Photo by Rich Fleisher

Some very astute [and amusing] comments on the various ideas we've been debating as well as some thoughts about Buteo jamaicensis in general from Chris Lyons:

Blakeman confirmed a suspicion I've long had--that one reason Red-Tails keep confounding the experts is that the experts don't know nearly enough about Red-Tails. There's far less research done on this species than many other raptors, because it hasn't been endangered or threatened in quite some time. And of course, the non urban-nesting Red-Tails are still shy of humans, and particularly try to avoid putting their nests where they can be easily observed. So we simply don't know how common or rare orangey chested eyasses are. And this species is so variable in its plumage across
its enormous range that learning they don't have orangey chests in states as far away as Ohio or Colorado doesn't really mean anything.

My theory is that a specific race of the Eastern Red-Tailed Hawk has been more likely to colonize urban areas. Pale Male is part of that race. Maybe if this could be confirmed, it could be named after him? Buteo jamaicensis palemaleus? Maybe somebody who knows more Latin should take a crack at it.

In addition:

There could definitely be many nestlings that don't get this coloration. This is a species that can very widely in appearance--there are all-white Red-Tails
that make Pale Male look swarthy by comparison.

I think before we make any assumptions about which eyass plumage is 'normal', a lot more data is required, from a variety of sources.

It's a real mystery--and right now, I just don't see an answer, except that the very species itself is undergoing significant and rapid change across its
entire range, in response to major environmental changes over the past several decades--Red-Tails are increasing in places where they were formerly unknown, and diminishing in areas where they were once common. And our attention to this species has likewise undergone substantial change. It's not just that we aren't shooting at them--we're positively DOTING on them, these birds that were seen as rapacious killers
and vermin a few generations ago. People feel so distanced from nature now that when they see a hawk, a living symbol of freedom and ferocity, living and raising families among them, it makes them feel like some kind of link to the past has been reestablished. And because of this fascination, we're noticing many things about these birds we never noticed before, and
we're able to share observations and images faster than ever before. And the birds have learned to tolerate our close observation, as never before.

I remain skeptical that Pale Male has had a significant impact on the genetics and behavior of his species. But he's definitely had a major impact on our behavior. As for genetics, do you know of any married couples with children who met at the boat pond?