Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blakeman Q & A about hawks' play

Photos courtesy of --September 20, 2007

Over the past week or so has posted photos of Pale Male apparently frolicking in the grass.  I guess this is mostly a question for John Blakeman, because I never realized hawks "played."  Is this typical behavior?

I guess I shouldn't be that surprised; as a predator a hawk is no less fierce than members of the cat family, and as everyone knows, cats LOVE to play.


Jaime A. Cruz, Jr.
Nassau Wings Motorcycle Club

A. by John Blakeman
About Palemale's recent "play" sequence of photos.
When I saw the first one, where the big bird is descending out in the open turf, I immediately wanted to know what drew the hawk to the site. What was it dropping down on to? I wasn't able to see anything of interest.

This seemed pretty anomalous to me.

No, red-tails don't "play" in any mammalian or childlike sense. Yes, eyasses and new fledglings "play" with sticks, feathers, and pieces of food But these behaviors are used to hone reflexes. And yes, the birds "like" to do these things. But they are more of normal psychological and physiological development than a joyous response activity.

These things can certainly look to us as though the birds are "having fun," playing as it were. But in fact, these are very serious neurological development events. The joy factor -- if there is one -- is purely incidental, and very minor, if it exists at all.

And as a teacher, I know that this is also closer to reality for young children who play with dolls or sticks or bicycles. Looks to us as though it's only childish fun. In fact, it's the serious work of growing up as a youngster.

For us adults, who do things like play cards, read books, play golf, or even just go for a walk, we do have fun. We really do play.

But was Palemale playing as he dropped down into the expanse of turf in Central Park? Not by any normal definition of the word. He probably saw a mouse wandering around down in the grass. Maybe even a grasshopper, which red-tails consume from time to time. Unless some other graphic evidence can be presented, this sure looks to be prey-related.

--John Blakeman