Saturday, April 22, 2006

No news yet

Photo of Charlotte on the nest by Bruce Yolton who writes:

Friday, it was back to dull evening behavior. (I wonder if the flurry of activity on Thursday was due to the unseasonably warm weather with temperatures in the 80s.)

Department of embarrassing mistakes:

Website correspondent Maria Carmicino writes about yesterday's New York Times photograph[on page B1] of the Trump Parc nest featuring a big, dark-headed bird:

Hi, Marie! I was thinking that it looked more like Charlotte. But the caption says that it's "perhaps the offspring of Pale Male." Or maybe the lighting is just playing tricks with the bird's coloration?


Bruce Yolton replies:

Of course it's Charlotte. On the web the caption is more general and correct, but not in the printed editions of the Times.

Donna reports on both nests

Field Notes 21 Apr 2006-
Temperature: 48F.
Mostly sunny
Humidity: 22%
Gusts to 18MPH

The Trump Parc Nest

1:04PM until 3:20PM-Events of Note
6:10PM until 7:15PM Exit

1:58PM Jr arrives on the nest with a pigeon. It's a
mite stiff. Charlotte gets up from the bowl, beaks
the pigeon, leaves it on the nest and takes off for
the park. Jr. looks at the pigeon, looks after Lola,
looks at the pigeon. Takes two bites of something
else on N nest edge, walks toward the nest bowl and

2:37PM They switch.

5:50PM Jean reports fly by of Jr. to behind the Essex

6:00PM Charlotte's head pops up.

6:20PM Man playing bongos leaves.

6:45PM Charlotte stands, head down to bowl, stretches
wings, preens breast. There is a small twig hanging
on her face, she scratches it off, rouses all her
feathers, arranges twigs, gets back in the bowl.

At exit after 7PM Jr. is discovered perched on the X
of the Essex sign.

The Fifth Avenue Nest
3:50PM until 5:23PM- Events of note

5:15PM Pale Male appears in flight with prey,
extremely heavy pigeon. Lola very alert to him, works
beak, triangulates, moves twigs. Pale Male takes a
rest on the bottom S terrace visible from the bench
over the treeline. He takes off, still unable to gain
enough altitude, no help from wind, he flies to the N
false terrace on Woody, perches, and pauses.

5:23PM Pale Male to nest left, stands foot on pigeon.
Lola comes toward him low, waiting for his foot to
move. She takes pigeon to nest right, eats, tail to
bench. PM stands nest left, alert. Lola begins to
rearrange twigs. Pale Male leans in toward pigeon,
first try to retrieve it, nets a couple feathers, he
tries again, more feathers, third time he retrieves
what is left of the pigeon and flies off the nest to
NW. Lola settles in.

Submitted: Donna Browne

Friday, April 21, 2006

Correction: premature notice of Trump-Parc hatch

This is embarrassing! And especially since I shamelessly boasted about scooping the NY Times. [That was the Girl Reporter syndrome I sometimes suffer from].

I looked at the photos on Bruce Yolton's site last night and jumped, positively leaped to a conclusion that turns out to have been hasty. About the Trump-parc chicks hatching. I guess I really wanted them to hatch pretty badly, what with the sad fate of Pale Male and Lola's nest.

Today I received the following e-mail from Ben Cacace, probably the most authoritative person involved with the Southern Central Park hawks. He's been following Pale Male Junior for at least 5 years. Many apologies. I'm still very hopeful that those eggs will hatch soon:


I was up on the Parker Meridian hotel roof with
Lincoln using the 3" refractor at 80 power last night
(4/20 from 5:45pm - 7:15pm) and there was no evidence
of young in the nest. Neither feeding of young nor a
visual sighting.

All the best.


We scoop the New York Times

From this morning's New York Times. They got it right, as far as they went. What they didn't know, and you did [see previous post]: There was already at least one chick in Junior and Charlotte's nest when the Times photographer clicked his camera yesterday.

April 21, 2006

Four Hawks, Two Nests, One Empty

First, the bad news.

For the second year, Pale Male and Lola, the now famous red-tailed hawks of Central Park, have failed to reproduce.

That is the anguished conclusion reached yesterday by the New York City chapter of the Audubon Society. Too much time had passed, the society said, since Lola laid eggs early in March in the hawks' 12th-floor nest on the facade of one of the city's most opulent co-ops, at 927 Fifth Avenue, and the eggs are no longer considered viable.

But there is better news not far away on Central Park South.

There, on a 35th-floor perch at Trump Parc, an equally resplendent condominium building at Avenue of the Americas, two younger red-tailed hawks are tending to eggs that are expected to survive and could hatch at any moment.

They are known as Charlotte and Junior, a male that bird experts believe to be Pale Male's offspring. Their struggle to survive and reproduce on an unprotected skyscraper ledge high above Central Park has astonished the city's many ardent hawk watchers.

"Everything is going just swimmingly for those birds," said Marie Winn, the author of "Red-Tails in Love," an account of Pale Male's survival over Central Park since he arrived in 1991. "They have provided a safety net now that things are going badly on Fifth Avenue."

The man behind Trump Parc said the young raptors have good taste.

"They know a lot about location," said Donald Trump, who converted the former Barbizon Plaza Hotel, a 38-story art deco tower, into Trump Parc. Junior and Charlotte's nest is on a decorative ledge near the top of the building with a sweeping view of the park.

"This could only happen to me," said Mr. Trump, adding that he had no intention of interfering with the nest. "I am honored by their choice of my building."

Although much remains unclear about how the two pairs of hawks have selected and adapted to their big city roosts, bird experts say they have moved in for good.

"This is a wild rural species of raptors that have simply colonized Central Park," said John A. Blakeman, a raptor biologist from Ohio who has closely tracked the hawks' behavior.

Junior, also known as Pale Male Jr., bears similarities to the elder Pale Male so striking that his lineage can easily be assumed. Pale Male is known to have sired 26 hawks from the Fifth Avenue nest, and 23 of them survived to fly off on their own.

But Junior is the first to bear offspring from such an elevated and dangerous perch over Central Park. He and Charlotte did so last year in an ordeal that tested the nerves of hawk watchers, if not the hawks themselves.

It happened as the glare of publicity was trained on 927 Fifth Avenue, at the corner of 74th Street, where the nest built by Pale Male and Lola was removed by the co-op board, provoking a groundswell of protest in December 2004, and where the same nest was restored in a protective steel cradle put there by the co-op.

Lola laid eggs in March of last year in the newly restored nest, but those eggs failed to hatch.

About the same time, Charlotte laid two of her own in a flimsy nest on the Trump Parc ledge that she and Junior had pieced together using sticks from Central Park. But at 35 stories above the street, they were buffeted by storms and high winds, the eggs rolled off the ledge, and the nest was destroyed.

Then, Ms. Winn recalled, "It seemed crazy, but Junior just kept building." In short order, a new nest was in place on the same ledge, and Charlotte laid two more eggs. In early June, those eggs produced Big, a female, and Little, her brother, both of which survived. (Young female red-tails are normally heftier than males.)

Although no one can guarantee that the two eggs in the Trump Parc nest will hatch this year, Mr. Blakeman said their prospects are excellent. Junior and Charlotte have fortified their nest against the wind, he said, and hawks that reproduce one year do so the next.

"I fully expect it to be a successful year," Mr. Blakeman said.


Should we test the eggs?

Betty Jo in California wrote yesterday about Pale Male and Lola's nest:

Dear Marie,
. . .

If it is true that the nest has failed --and maybe she could still have one chick--a later egg--we in this household think the eggs should be examined and the shells tested for chemicals etc. That kind of testing was the proof for the legal case against DDT. Pergegrine eggs are still thinning and failing to hatch at Moro Bay. Pale Male is too profound a symbol to let this go on. He has become more than an individual hawk, but is now a link to the wild world for millions.

Thanks for your oh so interesting web site.

Betty Jo

I answered:
The trouble is that PM & Lola will continue to sit and exchange places on the eggs, etc. for a few more weeks--maybe three. That's what they did last year when the eggs didn't hatch, and that's what happened in 1993 and 1994, before the first successful hatching of '95.

I am very against doing anything to retrieve the eggs until the hawks choose to abandon the nest. For one thing the pair would be dangerously aggressive to anyone coming near in any effort to retrieve the eggs. And for another it would be unnecessarily stressful for our much-loved pair.

Once they have left, of course, efforts will be made to retrieve the eggs.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The lucky ones

Tonight after work Bruce went to view Junior and Charlotte's nest and took a few photographs. Here's one with his comment:
6:15 p.m. Charlotte returns with a gray squirrel. Unusual behavior, since Junior has spent the last month feeding her.

There are more photographs on Bruce's site,
Don't fail to have a look. I would say there are one or two chicks on the thirty-fifth floor nest. [There are definitely two eggs, but we don't know if one or both have hatched.]



Just got a call from one of Junior and Charlotte's neighbors at the Trump-Parc. Since her apartment is very VERY close to the nest, she is extremely cautious about opening her window to check the nest. But just a few minutes ago she took a quick look. She saw Charlotte standing at the nest looking down in. And Junior, too, was there, looking down into the nest. We keep looking for CHANGED BEHAVIOR to indicate an egg has hatched. Well, Charlotte's friendly [and protective] neighbor reports that there has been changed behavior.

Boy do we need good news. This might be it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Junior and Charlotte

Here's one of many letters received during the past few days:

Hi Marie -
Thanks for keeping us informed about the tension surrounding Pale Male/Lola's nest and the "unhatched". However, if I remember correctly didn't Lola and Charlotte start sitting about the same time? What is happening with Charlotte?
Eagerly awaiting your email, VJ

Dear VJ and all the other readers inquiring after Junior and Charlotte: Charlotte laid the first egg four or 5 days after Lola began sitting a mile to the north. Everything seems to be going fine for the downtown pair. But no hatch yet. You can be sure that there are people keeping an eye on the Trump-Parc hawks, and I promise to let you know as soon as anything happens.

I'll also keep you posted on the latest thinking about what might have caused another nest failure at 927 Fifth.

Here's what may emerge from Brad's pupa

Abbott's Sphinx Moth - Sphecodina abbottii
Photo by Janice Stiefel
Fish Creek, Town of Gibraltar, Door County, Wisconsin, USA
April 25, 2003
Adult eclosed from overwintering pupa.

From a website correspondent:

Hi Marie:

What's happening with the cocoon you were keeping an eye on for so long?
I am not sure if I missed the lastest posting regarding that on your website or not.
It has been on my mind and would love to know.

Shelly Lane

Dear Shelly,

I'm not sure which one of our potential lepidopterans you're thinking of. If you're wondering about the little "cocoon" in Shakespeare Garden, that one is still there, looking exactly the same as it did last fall.

Black Swallowtail chrysalis after metamorphosis - 10/6/05
Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

It's actually a chrysalis or pupa, not a cocoon, the cocoon being a silky case many butterflies and some moths spin to enclose the pupa. We're keeping an eye on it to see if there are any changes that might indicate an emergence about to happen. In fact I just checked it this afternoon [4/18/06]. Looked just like it looked in the photo above. We know that a Black Swallowtail Butterfly is going to emerge from that chrysalis because we identified the caterpillar in a wonderful new field guide, Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David Wagner.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar attached to slat -- 10/5/05
Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

We watched the caterpillar wander around on the fence looking for the right spot. Then we saw him attach himself by two silky threads to a fence slat, shed his skin and metamorphose into the dried gray pupa you see on the second photo above. If you look carefully at both the Black Swallowtail photos you can see the two attaching threads quite clearly.

But maybe you're thinking of the big pupa found last fall -- see picture below. That one's actually not a cocoon either. Brad Klein, a Vice President at Acoustiguide and a Central Park Naturenik, found it,
photographed it, and named it Squirmy for its behavior when it's picked up.

Squirmy, a large pupa found in Central Park on 10/14/05
Photo by Brad Klein

I paid a visit to Squirmy last week. He is still on his sphagnum moss bed in a well-aired jar in Brad Klein's refrigerator. That's where Squirmy spent the winter, following the instructions of various people who have successfully reared moths from pupae.
We're pretty sure he's a he, having "sexed" him according to instructions found in a book called Rearing Moths. . Brad gently mists him every week to keep him from getting dessicated. He'll be placed out on Brad's terrace any day now in hope that he'll eclose --the entomologists' term for turning into a moth or butterfly.

We know he's a moth but aren't sure what kind. The most likely family is the Sphinx Moth family. The most likely species is The Abbott's Sphinx [Sphecodina abbottii], though it has never been seen in Central Park.

David Wagner has this to say about Sphinx Moths:

“Sphingids possess the most acute color vision of any animals, discriminating floral colors at light intensities that would appear pitch black to the human eye.”

Wagner has more to say about the Abbott’s Sphinx caterpillar, the very species Squirmy may prove to be. In the last stage of the Abbott caterpillar's development, an orange horn on its eighth abdominal segment is replaced by a convincing false eye that closely resembles a vertebrate eye with a black central pupil and encircling iris. Wagner continues:

"Added deception is provided by a 'white reflection spot' that makes the eye appear moist and shiny. If the 'eye' is poked or pinched, the caterpillar squeaks, reels around and bites its attacker."

Abbott's Sphinx caterpillar with deceptive "eye" [a dot of white pigment]
From BugGuide

Just for comparison, here is a bird with a real white reflection spot:
Brown-headed Cowbird in Central Park - 4/12/06
Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

Anyhow, thanks for writing, Shelly. I'm so glad someone's interested!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Is Pale Male's age a problem? Blakeman responds

Pale Male is at least 15 years old. How do we know? Because when he was first seen in Central Park in the winter of 1991 he was an immature hawk; his tail had not turned red. He could have been no older than two years old that winter.

Fifteen is not young in redtail years. Though there are records of individual Red-tailed Hawks living past 30, the average life span of the species is under five years. So could it be that Pale Male is too old now? Is that why the eggs are not hatching? [Hope is not gone, but it is slowly beginning to fade.]

I sent the question to John Blakeman. Here is his reply:

Pale Male too old? Nope, I don't think so. He's in his mid to late teens, isn't he? Many falconers' red-tails are several years older and still hunt with skill and alacrity. Many captive red-tails (if they aren't overfed, which most captive, non-falconry red-tails are) live well into their late teens and early twenties.
Pale Male is still flying around Central Park and hunting with absolutely no visible reduction in his skills. How could I know this, without ever having been to NYC or Central Park? When Pale Male begins to fade, everyone who knows and has seen him in action in CP will recognize his diminished powers.
The first thing he would give up would be nest building and the tending of his mate. If he were reduced in any survival capacities, he'd stop expending any energies for his mate and concentrate solely on hunting and feeding for himself. He's continuing to hunt and nest- and mate-tend as before. He's not worn out.
Come on. How many times was Pale Male seen in otherwise compromising behaviors this year? Pale Male still has it -- and Lola, I'm sure, got it. He may be a bit white-headed, but when Lola gave the signal, he responded.
Of course, Pale Male's reign will eventually come to an end, some years in the future we all hope. What then? In the wild, a "floater," a circulating new young adult looking for a mate is likely to jump right in and fill the reproductive void. In the wild, pairs that lose a mate can find a new suitor at the edge of the territory sometimes within hours of the death of a local resident. Within a day or so it can take up the duties of the fallen hawk.
So I'm not so concerned that the loss of Pale Male will be the loss of the 927 red-tailed hawk nestings. This might be a problem only if both birds were to succumb at the same time, leaving an entire territory vacant, with no surviving bird to lure in a new mate.
And of course, upon the appearance of a new breeding mate, the question will arise of its ancestry. Would or could the new breeder, the new mate, be an offspring of Pale Male? Yes it could, but we biologists would much prefer a new, totally unrelated bird, to reduce inbreeding problems.
But let's wait for those problems to arise. For another year, Pale Male is with us doing his noble things. Let's revel. The future will take care of itself nicely. Nature makes its provisions.

John A. Blakeman
I wanted to be sure I understoo0d Blakeman's answer, so I wrote back:

The issue here is fertility, not hunting skill. Could one assume the two go together? Any data anywhere about male hawk fertility and whether it diminishes with age?

Blakeman replied:

Yes, hunting skills and fertility are directly related (in males). Spermatogenesis, the production of sperm and semen, relates directly to general health, not to age. In captive breeding programs old male hawks remain fertile usually until they begin to decline and die.
My greater concern would be the onset of other, general geriatric conditions which usually are manifested with reduced powers of flight and killing skills (arthritis and some microbial diseases). As long as these are not evident, we needn't concern ourselves with Pale Male's siring powers. He's continuing to eat well, to fly well, and has engaged in a full season of copulatory adventures with his mate. He's transferred his genes, I'm sure.
Female hawks, however, can indeed egg themselves out. Egg production is metabolically taxing. Spermatogenesis isn't. Reduced egg production at age is known in both captive breeding peregrines and Harris' hawks - but only when the birds have been "double-clutched," where fertile eggs are removed after being laid to induce additional eggs. It's clear from these studies that older captive females that have numerous eggs removed can get "egged out." But I know of no evidence of males ever getting "spermed out."
Our man is entering his golden years, but in full vigor and power.
--John Blakeman

Monday, April 17, 2006

Still Waiting

Pale Male and Lola on nest--Saturday, April 15, 2006
Photo by Bruce Yolton

Many of us long-time followers of the Fifth Avenue Hawks cannot bring ourselves to put our anxieties about this year's nest into writing. We're waiting, hoping, and trying to enjoy the beauties of early spring in Central Park.

Bruce Yolton is a recent addition to the Central Park hawkwatching scene. A fine photographer, last year he devoted himself to chronicling the happy story of the Trump Parc redtails, Junior and Charlotte, and their successful nest on west 59th St.
He has started a nature blog where he keeps up with Central Park nature events, hawks, owls, songbirds --whatever strikes his fancy. You might enjoy a look.

Bruce spent part of last Saturday at the Model-boat Pond watching Pale Male and Lola, and posted a hopeful summary of the situation on his website. Here it is:

Expecting Parents

The Fifth Avenue nest had hundreds of observers on Saturday. Many first time watchers stumbled onto the "hawk bench" while taking part in Easter activities in the park. (The "hawk bench" has great view of the nest, which during this season has lots of telescopes, including a power Meade telescope connected to a video camera/monitor generously provided by Lincoln Karim,

Old timers were there looking to see if the chicks had hatched yet. The old timers have reasonable concerns since last year's eggs failed to hatch.

Pale Male (the male Red-tailed Hawk) has a history of his first year nests failing, so after the nest was removed in the early winter of 2004/5, it was not surprising that the 2005 nest failed. Whether the nest was too small to keep the eggs insulated, the stress of building a new nest or possible punctures by the pigeon spikes in the nest are all possible reasons for first year failures.

The new nest cradle, added as a compromise over safety, might also be a problem. So, all eyes are on the nest. The hatching window is anytime in the next week or so. Hopefully, good news will be reported soon.

PS from Marie: I would only add to Bruce's good summary that in the opinion of many old hawkwatchers, the hatching window has been open for five or six days.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Sunrise and hawk-nest check

The small yellow dot in the lower left quadrant of the photo is the gibbous moon glowing in the west, fifteen minutes before sunrise on Easter Sunday, 2006

Photo taken at Belvedere Castle where Jean Dane, Naomi Machado, Allan Miller and I met to see the day begin. Civil twilight began at 5:47 a.m. Sunrise was at 6:16 a.m. The moon set at 7:28 a.m.

A quick check of the hawk nest at a little after 7 a.m. found no hawkwatchers present [there will be hundreds by afternoon] and one female hawk sitting low on the nest. Pale Male not anywhere in sight.

At the Hawk Bench Saturday: Excitement, Anticipation, Anxiety

Big crowd at Model-boat Pond, looking for signs of a hatch - 4/15/06

Lincoln filming at the Model-boat Pond - 4/15/06
Three building from left to right: Woody's, Hawk Building, Dr. Fisher's

Dog at Hawk Bench, one day before Easter Parade - 4/15/06
Photos by M. Winn

Donna's quick report about hawk activities
yesterday - 4/15/06:

Hi Marie,

Beyond the looks into the nest bowl, Pale Male and Lola's rhythm has changed but as to what it means I'm not sure. Yesterday [Saturday] when I arrived at around noon I
was told that the hawk hunkered down in the nest was Pale Male, later when the hawk stood up during a break in the rain and I got a good look, I realized that it was Lola. She sat the nest without a break from around 11AM, was still on it when I left at 4:45. I hear she was still there at 8. No breaks off the nest and no eating during that time frame.

Pale Male brings food to the nest and leaves it. She doesn't get up for regular switchs and doesn't eat on the nest though food is lying there. (Is the food awaiting the begging of eyasses, perhaps?) You saw today that she gets up periodically to preen, and earlier she did stand and look down with alertness. At 3:04 both she and Pale Male looked down with focus.

Eventually Pale Male picked up a rather stiff squirrel from the nest, took it over to Stovepipe, placed it on the edge of the masonry for her, and perched on the back railing, waiting. She still did not come to eat.

Finally at 6:45, she left the nest for her Stovepipe squirrel, ate, sat on the Oreo antenna, soared around above the Fifth Avenue buildings and at 7:27 took the nest back from Pale Male. Pale Male then picked up and left with yet another squirrel from the other side of the nest.

Jim Lewis told me late this afternoon that someone in the early days came to the conclusion that the hawks preferred to feed their very small babies on squirrel.

On Thursday Pale Male made a celebratory flight which I thought might be about the fact that he had a squirrel for Lola but on reflection, that flight was similar to the flight he made last year after an "event" of some kind occurred on the nest. The one when he was sitting the nest and recalled her back to it by crying and flying back and forth in front of the nest.

I've begun to wonder if they aren't waiting for the eyasses to beg for food. I have Easter obligations so I won't be able to get to The Bench until late in the day tomorrow, but if there was a Thursday hatch tomorrow might well be "the day" if there is to be one. Unless of course as you well know, there is a confusion about the "first night on the nest" or Lola just decided to sit early.