Friday, June 09, 2006

Squirrel Prey

Cathedral Mom and bushy-tailed prey -- 6/5/06
Photo Bruce Yolton

On Monday evening, 6/5/06, I was up at the Cathedral hawkwatching, along with Bruce Yolton, Noreen O'Rourke, Chris Lyons, Yolanda Garcia, and a few others. Larry Curtis was filming the action for Frederic Lilien's film-in-progress.
Towards the end of the evening we all witnessed a breathtaking event: The adult female, [Divine Mom] who had been perched atop St. Lukes hospital, across the street from the Cathedral, suddenly made a dive directly towards the Cathedral wall. We heard the sound of impact -- I thought she was engaged in some sort of kamikazi dive --- and then she quickly returned to the top of St. Luke's again. But this time she looked different. A bushy tail was hanging down beneath her own tail as she flew. She sat on the hospital for a few minutes, mantling her prey. Then she flew off with it towards Morningside Park, perhaps to share with her mate. Bruce captured the event with his camera and titled the photo above Two Tails in the City. You may be wondering what a squirrel was doing on the actual building of the Cathedral. Well, I'm here to tell you that city squirrels clamber over buildings all the time. There is a squirrel that regularly appears on my 4th floor window-sill looking for a hand-out. The window is not attached to any fire-escape. The squirrel has to climb sheer wall.
PS Do I give the hand-out? Yes I'm afraid I do. And since a family member is allergic to peanuts, I am forced to provide hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds. These squirrels have a tough life...

I 'm re-posting an interesting note about squirrels as redtail prey that John Blakeman wrote almost a year ago\. Note his comment about females catching squirrels more frequently than males. That was underlined last Monday at the Cathedral.

About squirrels: In rural areas, these arboreal rodents are marginal and infrequent red-tail fare, especially the larger fox squirrel. The squirrels of Central Park, I believe, are all the slightly smaller gray squirrels. Nonetheless, each species can be challenging prey, even for the muscular red-tail. Squirrels are hard to kill. They have lightning-fast, extremely powerful, and agile teeth and jaws. Unless a hawk can instantly grab the head of a squirrel and restrain its biting, the bird is likely to encounter a vicious bite that can severe a tendon or split a bone.
Additionally, squirrels have skin that is almost impervious to the penetration of the hawk's needle-sharp talons. It is difficult for a red-tail to sink a talon or two into a vital organ. And since most of those are in the thoracic (chest) cavity, the squirrel's head may be free to fling about and render multiple bites on the toes and tarsus (ankle) of the hawk.
Although squirrels appear to be readily available hawk food, these rodents are formidable prey. In the experiences of most falconers who pursue squirrels with red-tails, the smaller tiercels (males) just don't much like to take on squirrels The big hens will, from time to time.
Having watched red-tails hunt, I'd stay away from squirrels if I were a red-tail. They are dangerous, difficult to kill, and hard to rip open for the underlying flesh. Squirrels are formidable. A wise red-tail stays away from them except only when it knows it has the upper hand.