Mai Stewart, a regular correspondent of this website, sent a letter to John Blakeman about Pale Male and Lola's nest-building schedule, and John responded. Below are both letters:
I've really enjoyed all your commentary on Marie's website during the past several months.
I've been wondering -- I thought January began the time that our favorite RTs would begin working on the nest again, in preparation for (hopefully) new little ones this spring -- yet, we've seen very little activity in this regard, so far -- am I wrong/misremembering?
My concern is that because there's so little activity, perhaps PM/Lola believe the nest is complete, and they aren't working on it because they believe they don't need to do any more, whereas I'm afraid that if a substantial amount of nest-building doesn't go on again this year, we'll end up w/ the same situation as the past 2 years, i.e., eggs which don't hatch, and no new babies.
I'd love your thoughts on this -- perhaps it's too early, and I'm just too anxious?
Here's Blakeman's response:
You are correct on both accounts. Yes, the birds are often more active at the nest in the last week of January. But likewise, it's still early in the season and we can't tell anything yet about what's to happen.
I've noticed this in my rural red-tails. In some years, there is a great deal of activity in late January and early February. But in other years, almost nothing happens until mid-February.
Frankly, I have no idea what causes this variable seasonal nest activity. I don't see it connected to temperatures, snow, or anything else. And I haven't really documented this at all, as it's just some impressions I've had. I haven't worried about serious nesting or mating or copulating activities until late February, when these all become actively pursued.
The early, deep-winter portion of the red-tail nesting season is pretty tentative. It's fun to see new pairs and nests, and the beginnings of the refurbishing of old nests. But none of this seems to have any predictive value on March through April nesting successes.
The fact that there may be a third pair of red-tails somewhere in Central Park may be a factor. Instead of leisurely attending to nest refurbishment, the resident red-tail pairs may be devoting more of their mental attention to the location and distant activities of new residents of Central Park (if any).
As before, I'd really like to see the 927 nest get built up to a much greater depth. If it happens, we won't see that until sometime in March.
Let's wait a few more weeks before we lose any sleep on any of this. (But it sure is a delight to watch and contemplate everything. How blessed we are to be able to do this with this great raptor, and for you and the others, right in the center of one of the world's greatest cities!)
Keep me posted on anything new. I'm stuck out here in rural Ohio, where my resident red-tails are having to spend all of their waking hours searching for voles, which now are pretty safe beneath the recent snows. My red-tails are concerning themselves with gaining daily food, not cavorting with legs dangling (for those who don't know, a provocative red-tail sexual activity) or even bringing a few new sticks to the nests.
My wild birds are parked up on utility poles and trees diligently scanning the countryside for a vole that might mistakenly poke it's snub nose out above the snow to sniff and see what's up there. For rural red-tails, without ample pigeons, rats, and other urban fare, it's crunch time, when hawks often have to rely only on ample fat reserves. A red-tail can go several days, even up to a week, without finding anything to eat.
It's at times like these that the red-tail will revert to its innate power and prowess, and deign to take much larger available prey such as squirrels or cottontail rabbits. When pressed (as now), these great raptors can take the larger, exposed mammals when mice and voles are safe beneath the snow. This is why the species is such a success across the continent. There isn't much that can keep them suppressed in the winter south of the deep extensive snow habitats in the northern tier of states.
By comparison, Pale and Lola are living in a red-tail's paradise, with ample and easy-to-catch winter food. For them, life is good in Gotham.
--John A, Blakeman
Lola on Fifth Avenue nest with "cradle" - 1/29/07
Photo by Lincoln Karim [click on photo to enlarge]