Saturday, March 04, 2006

Flabbergasting owl development

Today, before the screech-owl made his [or her] exit at the usual fly-out time [about 6:05] there was a bit of a commotion at the cavity entrance. We could see another head at the base of the opening, just as the owl was getting ready to go. We assumed it was the second owl and hoped we'd see her [or him] fly out as well. Then there seemed to be some pushing and shoving. Just after the fly-out we kept our eyes glued to the roost-hole, and two photographers with cameras aimed at the cavity clicked away. A head appeared at the lower part of the entrance and peered out, huge-eyed. Jean said: That's a different owl! Suddenly another head poked up.. Neither was the head we expected. These were fluffier, and without the ear-tufts that give screech owls their characteristic look. Indeed, they looked like Shmoos in the quick look we got. Babies!

Afterwards, looking back at Bruce's digital pictures, we thought we saw three little fluffy heads.

The other photographer, James O'Brien, just e-mailed me the following message after examining his photos:

"From the tape it is clear there are at least two owlets in the nest and one adult. They are never all in the picture together but the two young appear together and then one young and the adult. Based on their appearance, I guess they are about two weeks from fledging as they are still mostly down. "

These owlets come from eggs that must have been laid more than a month ago. We'll be working on this mystery, trying to reinterpret events of the last months in light of this new and exciting development. It is still not clear if there are one or two adult owls in this nest. Photos and more news to come.

FLASH! Owl Reappears

Last night in the bitter cold, just after an early fly-out [5:58pm] by the same lone owl we've been seeing for the last five days, Bruce, Jean, Martha, Lee, Noreen and I, so bundled up that we hardly recognized each other, saw a second owl pop up in the entrance-way. Lost....and found. The owl quickly popped back down in the cavity. Now we are re-assessing: Maybe "he" is a "she" and maybe incubation has begun. It's a concept. Keep tuned.

Report from a next-door neighbor

Junior bringing branch to nest
Photo by Bruce Yolton


After returning from the south, the weather there being about 70 degrees, I have
to report that our hawks have not let the cold stop their mission. There was really a difference of twigs and sticks stacking up on the nest. Every a.m. Charlotte is there , renovating for the spring arrivals, while Jr. provides new material for the new digs. It is my own opinion that the two have found a new perch on the side of the Hampshire House building, as I see them leave the nest often, circling and landing not on the exposed windy chimneys of the building but on some ledge, window or possibly a lone balcony toward the back of the building that gets early sun and is not exposed to the wind and cold. Charlotte spent much longer mornings there this week, but not an overnight.

Hope you're well and that the creatures in the park are keeping warm......see you soon.....

Veronica Goodrich

Friday, March 03, 2006

Jean reports on West Drive owls

Photo by Bruce Yolton - 2/16/06
[This is the owl that always flew out second. We believe it's the one now seen flying out of the West Drive cavity around 6pm.]

The weather was horrible yesterday, but faithful Jean e-mailed her report at 8 p.m. Here it is:

Marie -

Well, it was just Bruce and me this evening - and quite sloppish out there, though not as blisteringly cold and windy, at least, as the weatherpeople had promised. Bruce had been there since shortly after 5, and said the ESO we've been thinking was the female appeared, disappeared, reappeared several times in the doorway - like the trading-places routine the pair did for two nights last weekend, except this was always only one - the smaller, paler, more rumpled owl with the prominent bucktooth beak. By 5:40 when I arrived, she was just standing there watching.

Flyout was exactly 6:00, and she flew unusually high again (remember we noticed the same pattern on snow-days awhile back). We thought she might have stuck in a tree just park-side of the wall, but careful checking turned up no owl, so chances are she went directly over the wall into city streets.

Just in case she had doubled back, we checked the higher ground above the little stream that goes under the bridge - where she had her breakfast a couple of nights ago (no joy this time) - and then we left the park and checked, pretty carefully, first block of the street where we guessed she might have gone. We found several spots we thought would be attractive for an owl, but figured wrong, apparently - she's out there somewhere, for the night, and I hope she's finding something nice and warm and nourishing.

Fourth flyout in a row, only one flier.

Jean Dane

Eyewitness report on Junior and Charlotte's nest

Chatlotte on the Essex House sign [a favorite roost]
"What I think they're thinking about now that the days are getting longer."
Photos and the above quote by Bruce Yolton 2/25/06

The kindly gentleman whose high 57th Street apartment looks down on the Trump-Parc nest just sent a report to me and Lincoln:

Dear Marie and Lincoln,
This is just to update you both on the pair of hawks that frequent the west side of the Trump-Parc building. Fro the last month, they have been making stops at the nest, usually not together, and patching the nest with bits of wood, duct tape, and electric wire. We have the notion that one of them, the one with the most brown feathers, has been the most attentive, and that the number of (her?) trips is increasing.

PS from Marie
I'd say "the one with most brown feathers" is the one we call Charlotte.

Owl virtuoso

ESO in "new" cavity 3/1/06
photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

Date: March 1, 2006
Location: Central Park
Subject: Central Park Owling/Red Morph Singing Virtuoso
Reporter: Bob Levy

Gabriel and I went looking for the red morph Eastern Screech-Owl this evening. It was not in its “old” tree cavity so went to look at the “new” one where it had previously cohabitated with a gray morph. A third birder we did not know joined us. Gabriel thought he saw some movement inside the hole. We stared at it in silence for several minutes: no owl showed itself. Gabriel assumed we were not going to see the red morph and pointed out that we would have to hurry if we hoped to watch the gray morphs’ fly out. As I turned toward him to express my agreement, out of the corner of my eye it was my turn to see movement inside the cavity. We three stared at the cavity for several more minutes: still no owl. We began to think either the movement had been made by a Gray Squirrel or our over active imaginations. Gabriel and the other birder left. I decided to stay hoping to confirm whether there was any thing at all inside the hole. At 6:07 PM the red morph Eastern Screech-Owl appeared in the opening of the tree: Yes!

At 6:11 the owl began singing its tremolo song for a total of nine times from its position on the rim of the cavity. I felt satisfaction seeing and hearing this and then got to watch the owl fly out at 6: 19 PM. It flew at a sharp angle toward the ground landing only a short distance from the tree. I lost sight of it but waited thinking I might find it again if it moved. I did not see the owl but I certainly heard it. After listening to an additional twenty tremolo songs I thought the vocal performance was over and I started walking away. Another chorus of the song stopped me in my tracks. After listening to ten more tremolos I again assumed the show was over and I started to leave but another tremolo stopped me again. After hearing number forty-four (nine from inside the tree cavity and thirty-five from outside) I decided it was really time to leave but I do not know if the red morph thought it was time to quit. It might have kept on singing long after I was gone.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Owl- and moon-watchers

"The old moon in the new moon's arms" -- 6:15 pm -- 3/1/06 Photo by Bruce Yolton

Last night the West Drive owl watchers observed one screech-owl fly out at 6:02. For the third day in a row no second owl was seen. Two owls flew out on Saturday and Sunday. After that only one. Is the second owl possibly sitting on eggs and being fed by her mate? That would explain the absence. Did last Friday's close encounter with a passing car have something to do with the owl's absence?. Or did that same owl move to a new location as a consequence of Friday's mishap? Or [most likely] is there some other explanation? The owl watchers last night were a bit gloomy.

Their spirits were lifted by the breathtaking sight of a bright crescent moon at the western horizon, which Bruce captured digitally -- see above. They did not see the planet Mercury, which was visible last night just under the setting moon ; that sight would have required a higher viewing spot than the owl-fly-out location. But one of the watchers had seen the moon and planet the night before: Mitch, an accomplished amateur astronomer, had traveled to the heights of Fort Tryon Park on Feb. 28 and seen the stunning appearance of planet and moon.

Last night as the owl watchers were still mulling over the various possibilites, Mitch pointed out another exciting phenomenon. At 6:30, clearly visible just under the reddish planet Mars, a bright moving object appeared. It was making its way swiftly across the sky in a northward direction. Clearly not an airplane [no flashing lights etc.], it was the upper stage of the booster rocket of the Space Satellite Cosmos 2098, which had been launched in 1991. We gawked in wonder, and then thanked our lucky stars we had this treasure-trove of astronomical and astro-physical knowledge in our midst.

One owl lost and, in compensation, one owl found: After being out of sight for a few days, the red-phase screech-owl was seen dozing in the entrance of the London Plane roost-hole, one of her usual two. Lloyd Spitalnik sent in the photograph above.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Pale Male and Lola- update and historical overview

Pale Male on Linda #2 - Feb 26, 2006
Photo by Lincoln Karim

For the last few weeks everything's been going according to schedule : Pale Male and Lola have been nest building, making hawk love on various rooftops, chimney grates, TV antennas etc. Now they're bringing lining materials to the nest.

Below is a brief summary of Pale Male's history in Central Park. Many of the details of the history below, up until the nest-removal crisis of December, 2004, appear in Red-tails in Love, both in the original edition and in the UPDATE:Ten Years Later section of the tenth Anniversary edition published last spring.


11/10/91 - Pale Male first sighted in Ramble


3/18-4/6: Pale Male and First Love nest on Great Lawn

4/10-5/2 New nest in elm near SummerStage

5/2 -- First Love injured - goes to Raptor Trust

5/4 Pale Male injured - then released back in CP

11/7 -- First Love banded and released at Raptor Trust

11/14 - Pale Male seen with unbanded female – [Chocolate]


1/1-3/3 Pale Male seen with mate - courtship - often seen on

buildings on 5th Ave

3/3/ Fifth Ave nest discovered

3/31 Incubation begun

6/1 - nest finally abandoned, [but super sees 3 eggs.]

6/30 - Building removes nest –


2/15 -3/31 - nest rebuilding

4/1- Incubation begins

5/1- eggs don't hatch second year in a row

5/15- Hawks abandon nest

[Nest remains in place because of FWS’s warning]

9/3 Injured female -blind in rt. eye - found at Palisades Parkway - taken to Raptor Trust- [It could be Chocolate. She was last sighted in the park in August]

10/8 Soucy bands the bird and releases her

PALE MALE & MOM I [Probably Chocolate with a band] – 3 Chicks

1/95-3/20 -- nest building and courtship

3/20 - Incubation begins

4/22-4/26 - 3 chicks hatch - first seen on 4/26

6/4 - Tom sees first fledge - 5:57 a.m.

6/6 - 2nd fledge - 6:08 a.m

6/7 -3rd fledge - 11:58 a.m.

6/23 - birders succeed in reading band and it is not FIRST

LOVE. -- timing reveals it is probably Chocolate who took a quick trip to Jersey, was injured, rehabbed, banded and released in mid September, 1995-- Jerry Domino finds dead bird, not far from where Mom I had been found iinjured the previous year, doesn't report it until he reads my article in Smithsonian in December '95

9/28 Female seen preening in nest. Mom I [ i.e Chocolate,] is now definitely dead in NJ., but nobody knows this.
12/21 - Jerry Domino calls Smithsonian - reads them band number of dead hawk - it is Mom I. I tell hawkwatchers. They don't believe it.

1996 - PALE MALE & FIRST LOVE -MOM II -- 3 chicks

1/1/96 Merrill Higgins sees band on female perched with Pale

Male. There can't be another banded female!

3/5 - Hawks seen mating on Carlyle

3/23 Incubation begins

3/25 Merrill Higgins reads band. It is FIRST LOVE!

4/22 - 4/28 Eggs hatch -

5/5 chicks seen

6/19 - First fledge bet. 4 & 5 p.m. in pouring rain

6/20 - #2 fledge at 5:40 a.m. and #3 at 1:27 p.m.

1997- PALE MALE & FIRST LOVE - MOM II -- 2 Chicks

2/14 mating

3/15 incubation

4/24 hatch

4/29 2 chicks seen

6/12 1st fledge at 5:58 a.m. and 2nd at 7:36 pm

8/31 - imm. red-tailed hawk found in distress near HC Anderson


9/11 Imm. Red-Tail taken to Raptor trust - filmed by F. Lilien-

birdwatchers convinced that it's one of the fledglings.

9/26 - The rt juvenile banded and released on Sheep Meadow

10/12 - banded adult red-tailed hawk found dead at Metropolitan

Museum of Art with poisoned pigeon in its crop-- it is

First Love [Mom II]

10/15 Pale Male seen soaring and then perching with new female

Red-tailed hawk -- Blue.

1998 - PALE MALE & BLUE -- MOM III -- 3 Chicks

Jan-Feb - Courtship and nest building

2/13- First mating seen

3/13 - Incubation begins

4/13 -- Possible hatch day.

4/18 - 1st chick seen

4/28 - 3rd nestling finally seen

6/2 - First fledge at 3:50 p.m. -high wind

6/3 - 2nd fledgling take-off 5:20 a.m. -- high wind-- found on

5th Ave at 5:30 p.m. --rehabilitators instructions

followed -- taken up to Dr. Fisher's terrace in box. let

out, and he flies off. Seems OK].

6/12 3rd fledgling goes takes off in pouring rain at 12:31 p.m.

1999 - PALE MALE & BLUE -- 2 chicks [one survives]

Jan- Feb - Courtship and nest building

2/5 First mating observed

3/10 Incubation begins

4/24 2 Chicks seen

5/19 - one chick found dead (trichomoniasis is cause)

6/4 First fledge

2000 -- PALE MALE & BLUE -- 3 chicks

Jan - Feb - Courtship and nest decorating

2/5 First mating observed

3/8 Incubation begins

4/12 HATCH

4/24 --3 chicks seen
6/3 First Fledge

6/5 Second Fledge and 3rd Fledge

2001- PALE MALE & BLUE – 3 Chicks

Jan-Feb Courtship and nest redecorating

2/11 Mating first observed
3/10 Incubation begins
4/16 – HATCH
4/22 Chick seen

First and 2nd Fledge

[Some time in August, doubt about whether the female with Pale Male is Blue – this one has yellow eyes.

Also, a dead hawk was found shortly before Lola appears, probably Blue]

2002—PALE MALE & LOLA – 2 chicks – none survive

Jan-Feb – courtship and decorating

2/5 Mating observed

3/7 – incubation begins

4/11 – Hatch

4/14 – First chick seen

5/11 – chick dies

5/22 – 2nd chick dies

2003 – PALE MALE & LOLA – 2 chicks

Jan-Fen – courtship and nest decorating

1/26 – First observation of mating

3/7 - incubation begins

4/14 or 4/16 – Eggs hatch

4/23 – First chick seen

6/2 – First & Second Fledge


Jan-Feb – courtship and nest decorating

2/9 -– Mating first observed

3/7 – Incubation begins

4/15 – Hatch

4/19 – First chick seen

5/29 – First Fledge
– 2nd Fledge
– 3rd Fledge

6/9/04 – Fledgling found on Fifth Ave w/crushed skull – probably collision with building

12/7/04 – Nest removed by management of 927 Fifth Avenue

12/8/04 – Vigil-Protests begin across from 927 Fifth

12/13/04 –Management meets w/Audubon reps – agrees to restore spikes

12/8-12/22 – Protests continue- Honk-4-Hawks etc.

12/23 – New contraption-with-spikes installed at old nest site

including starter twigs

end of December 2004 – Pale Male & Lola

bring twigs to nest – continue through January

First week of February, 2005 – Nest- building begins in earnest

March 6/05 – Nest almost complete-

3/15/05 – Incubation begins

4/20/05 --- hawkwatchers are anxious – the eggs should have hatched three or so days ago

4/29/05 NY Times publishes news that nest has definitely failed. Hawks have been incubating for 44 days, ten days longer than expected.

5/30 The pair finally abandon nest .


Jan-March - nest building and sex.

Check out incubation records for previous years to estimate when the pair might lay eggs and start sitting this year. Should be SOON!

Last chance tonight

Tom Clabough, one of Central Park's amateur astronomers, writes:

Hi all,
If you missed yesterday's razor thin moon just below Mercury, you'll have another, much easier, opportunity tonight(Mar 1) to catch the pair as the moon will now be a slightly thicker, more easily visible, crescent and will be positioned *above* the planet. Look LOW in the west at sunset.

See sky map for March 1st:

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mercury and the crescent moon

Tom Clabough, one of the Central Park star guys, sent me notice of this event. If you miss it tonight, tomorrow [March 1] is also good, but probably the last day.

MERCURY & THE MOON: Have you been watching Mercury in the evening sky lately? Tonight it has a beautiful companion: a super-thin crescent moon. Look for the pair just above the western horizon at sunset.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Owl watchers and owls

A big crowd showed up at the Screech-owl fly-out on Saturday, February 25, 2006. Among them the old and new owlers below. Since one of the owls had had a brief encounter with a car as he flew across the Drive to his hunting grounds the night before,[Lee stopped traffic and gave the little bird a chance to resume his flight unharmed] all were relieved to find both owls looking in tip-top condition on the following evening. The fly-out proceeded as usual, with the male leaving first. On the following evening[2/26/06]a change: the female exited first, followed a few minutes later by the male.

Lee as owl, Bruce in Background

Cal Vornberger, author of Birds of Central Park, with John Malcolm Graves Sturchio of P.S.87

Anthropomorphism: a reader and John Blakeman respond

Darryl Tuffli's spirited defense of anthropomorphism elicited the following response from Nan Holmes, a frequent website correspondent. She accepted both views, Tuffli's and the original John Blakeman statement. Her letter is followed by a further argument by John Blakeman. No, we are not both right, Tuffli and I, he seems to be saying. I guess it's time to move on.

First, Nan's note:

Dear Marie,

I am enjoying the Darryl Tuffli letter in response to John Blakeman's admonitions to see hawks as hawks. Of course, they are both correct. It is a delight to read this material and enjoy both the topic of the text as well as the writing. Thank you to them both.

John's words about mating in your posting of Feb 18, 2006 was so well written that I had to print it. The words resonate with his love of hawks and all creatures as well as his knowledge and experience. Just delightful reading!

Nan Holmes

Reaponse to Darryl Tuffli by John Blakeman:

Darrell Tuffli's disgreements with my "non-mammalian" perspectives on red-tailed hawk mutual affection behaviors are very reasonable. Let me try to elaborate and make the matter clearer.

Darell stated:
Blakeman’s insistence on the idea that RTH pairs' close proximity to each other in their territory has absolutely nothing in common with human relationships seems extreme. They have a big territory, after all, and good eyesight. If they really had no interest in each other beyond cyclical mating, why would they ever have occasion to come any closer than 50 to 100 feet of each other? The watchers seem to find them sitting next to each other often.

My answer is that red-tails tend to perch in the same areas, relatively close to each other, in non-breeding seasons for several reasons, none of which are related to any mammal-like mutual affection.

First, when red-tails are studied at length, it will be noted that the birds have preferred perching sites. I’ve been studying red-tails for 40 years and I can now think like one. When I travel down a rural road into a landscape I’ve never seen, I instantly scan for perched red-tails. My eye is drawn to where they should be, to likely perches that a red-tail would select. More often than not, I find a local red-tail. Others with me think that I had hawk-like eyesight to discover the perched bird. My inexperienced compatriots are searching everywhere. I focus only on ideal perch sites, so my chance of finding a local red-tail are much greater. I know exactly where these birds like to sit, and it’s not just anywhere.

The birds don’t stochastically (by random chance) park themselves on just any ledge or tree branch that will support their weight. Unless hunting a specific small spot over a spied population of prey, they generally park themselves toward the tops of trees, toward the outer edges of the tree, on perches that provide desired viewpoints of the their landscape. They also generally want to be looking down into or out over preferred prey habitat.

When I see a red-tail flying across an open field heading toward a distant forest or woodlot, I always scan the trees and pick out what I think will be the bird’s selected perch. I’m uncannily correct – not so much because I’m such an astute scholar of the bird, but because red-tails are just so predictable. The same thing happens with my falconry red-tail. When I enter a field to watch her pursue cottontail rabbits, she leaves my fist and heads to some high tree. She and I see the same trees, and we both select the same hunting perches. Invariably, even if Savanna and I have never been in a particular field before, when she jumps off my fist to begin her hunt, I know instantly where she’s going. Her hunting perch has “that look.”

Many readers, too, I’m sure have done this. Watch red-tails for a year, either in Central Park or rural Ohio, and you will note that they have highly preferred perching preferences. And because of this, a territorial pair will often be seen perched near each other, not because of any mated affection (in non-breeding and non-nesting seasons), but because both birds just like those perches.

The second reason they often are seen together is that they prefer to park themselves where prey can be seen. I’ve mentioned this before. Red-tails spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on perches. Cooper’s hawks and peregrine falcons are in the air and on the move for much of the day, connoting attitudes of frenetic activity and mental acuity. Red-tails, however, tend to spend hour after hour on sedentary perches, seeming to be stupidly oblivious to everything around them. Not so. When red-tails are perched either on the side of a Park Ave building overlooking Central Park, or on a horizontal oak branch over an Ohio cornfield, these hawks are intelligently eyeballing and memorizing every movement they see in the entire landscape. They are calculating how their next meal could be captured with the least effort and highest chance of success. Two red-tails perched nearby aren’t contemplating the wonderfulness of each other. They are taking in the landscape and plotting hunting maneuvers. The birds are close together because they both have seen the same enticing prey below, and both prefer the same sorts of perches.
When we see humans sitting nearby in a city park, we don’t presume that they all have mutual affections for one another. They are sitting nearby because that’s where humans prefer to sit, on benches, or out on preferred sections of the lawn. Same thing for red-tails.

Why, then, aren’t third and fourth red-tails allowed to join perched hunting activities? (Well, occasionally they are, in certain winter-time high-prey hunting areas, in places where there is an overabundance of voles or other prey, to the point where a resident pair simply chooses not to exert the continual efforts required to drive out off-season territorial interlopers.) The best explanation is to presume that except when actually copulating and trading food related to copulation, territorial raptors are really mated to their territories, not so much to each other. It’s the landscape, the territory that counts most, not the other hawk.

This works in explaining the rapid, sometimes almost instantaneous appearance and acceptance of a new, replacement mate when a mated hawk dies or is removed from its territory. There are a great number of these recorded events, too numerous and detailed to go into here, where a new mate shows up within hours after a bird dies and is instantly accepted as the new mate.

Again, it’s the territory, the local habitat, the occupied landscape, that matters most to both mated birds. Each has the instinct to know and allow the other bird to be there. Both birds deport themselves as rightful owners and occupiers, subtly signaling to intruders that the territory is occupied and outsiders are unwelcome.

All of this, I believe, is non-mammalian. Most mammals are rather social, with oxytocin (the “friend and befriend” hormone) playing crucial roles in “affection” and social behaviors. Red-tails have little or none of this hormone. Whatever appears to be human- or mammal-like affection is merely incidental to their territorial perching and hunting behaviors.


John A. Blakeman


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Where I thought our grackles were heading [but they never left this year].

A grackle winter roost in New Jersey - photo [taken through car window] by Judy Glattstein

A reader of this website, Judy Glattstein, has a blog that focuses mainly on gardening. Occasionally she comments on birds, as she did a few days ago after observing a flock of grackles foraging in a New Jersey field. Having read my frequent comments about the Pulitzer Fountain grackles, she alerted me to a recent sighting she'd posted on her blog. See below:

Thursday, 23 February 2006
The Birds

It was early afternoon when I finished teaching my class on native plants in New Brunswick. Packed up my books and slides, loaded everything into my car and took to the road. Passed under the highway and got ready to merge with traffic on Route 1 South. Changed my mind and pulled over to the side of the road. The adjacent field was filled with grackles, hundreds of birds, probably thousands of them. They swirled into the air, so numerous they literally darkened the sky, too thick to see beyond the flickering wings. Then settled back to gleaning in the field.

For more of Judy Glattstein's grackle observations, click on the link below, then Diary, then February.

PS from Marie: The Central Park grackles are still roosting at the Grand Army Plaza these days. And the Bradford Callery Pear trees they're roosting in are beginning to form leaf buds.