Saturday, March 22, 2008


Just received from John Blakeman:
A photo taken yesterday and posted today [March 22, 2008] at shows, remarkably, that the female at PS 188 is banded.
Every telephotic effort should be made to read the band number. If the band number can be discerned -- very possible with a good spotting scope (if the bird stands long anywhere enough to get a view) -- this would be the very first and very important answer to where do the NYC breeding Red-tails come from. Are all of these birds a closely-related clan, originating from the wild rural population that produced Pale Male. Or, have Red-tails drifted into NYC from all over the Eastern Seaboard or New England?
Did this bird get banded within 50 miles of New York City, or somewhere else much further to the North, West, or South? If the bird originated close-in, this would lend support to the romantic notion that the NYC urban Red-tails share genes and urban behaviors, that they are like some of the many human groups who have come to NYC and thrived there in family and ethno-cultural groupings. Or, did modern Red-tails, also like so many humans, come in from any number of distant origins? All we need is the number on this hawk's band!
Although Red-tails are the most common large hawk in North America, only a moderate few get banded. The vast majority of bandings occur at migration point banding stations, often on mountain ridges in the Northeast, or at waterbody crossing points, such as Cape May, New Jersey. Ideally, this would have been one of he moderate few Red-tails banded at a nest, where we could then know its exact origin. More likely, it was banded at a migration banding station, which will make determining its natal origins just a bit more problematic. Either way, learning where and when this majestic bird was banded will be very informative.
And viewers should please note that the banding of eyasses or migrants causes absolutely no harm or discomfort. It's no different than the wearing of a ring. This banded bird is dutifully attending to breeding behaviors, unencumbered by the band. She doesn't even know she has this imposed mark of origin.
Again, I'm hoping that someone will be able in the next few weeks to read off the band number. Actually, it may be best be read right from the screened window next to the nest. This, perhaps, should be a project for some science students at the school.
I'm excited at the prospect of knowing with some certainty the origin of this bird. It will help us discern where the other NYC Red-tails came from.
--John Blakeman

PS from Marie -- This is today's 2nd posting. Also today, info about Pale Male and Lola's nest,

Q & A about the Fifth Avenue nest

View of nest from above--photo courtesy of Glenn Phillips
photo by Jeff Kollbrunner

Below, four e-mailed communications. The first from regular correspondent Mai Stewart, inquiring about eggs in the nest and the latest retrieval. The second is my reply, which I first sent to John Blakeman, to check for accuracy. The third is Blakeman's reply. The fourth is a note of confirmation and clarification from Glenn Phillips, executive director of the NYC Audubon. All together, these notes do clarify the present situation a little, I believe.

Mai writes:

Hi Marie, Do we have any idea as to whether Lola has laid a(ny) egg(s) yet -- and if not, when they would be expected?

Also, any further reports on the eggs taken from the nest recently? You reported that poison wasn't a factor in their failure -- is there any further info re what happened last year? We all assume that it was the nest structure -- is there confirmation from the expert, or any other info? Thanks, Mai

2. Here's what I answered:

Hi Mai,

I'm pretty sure there are newly-laid eggs in there. They are usually laid about a week after Lola begins to spend the night in the nest. By the middle of April, at the latest, we should know if the eggs have hatched or if there will be no hatch

As for the report: you write "You reported that poison...etc." But that wasn't my report. I had just posted the NYCAudubon press release.

As I see it, the main issue has been whether the nest failure was caused by a flaw of some sort in the new cradle (or the way it was set on the ledge ) or whether it was a function of Pale Male's age.

There is a test that can be done with retrieved eggs which can tell, by microscopic examination, whether the eggs were actually fertilized. Had that special test been performed on retrieved eggs during the last three years, that would have settled the question of whether PM's age has anything to do with the nest failure.

But alas, that test was not done. Now, if the nest succeeds, of course we'll know that the spikes were the problem. Our gratitude to the NYC Audubon for fixing that problem will know no bounds. [We will remain grateful to the NYC Audubon, I hasten to stay, no matter what. They did make a concerted effort to deal with a likely problem]

But if the nest fails again this year we won't know much of anything. We WILL know that the spikes probably weren't the problem. But other problems might remain: maybe the stainless steel of the cradle is at fault. Maybe the space under the cradle causes some unexpected cooling problems. OR maybe it's the geriatric factor after all. Pale Male is 17 years old, a venerable age for a red-tailed hawk, [though to be sure he was only 13 when the first post-crisis failure occurred.]

All we can do is keep our fingers crossed now. And if there's a failure, we must really make sure that the eggs are retrieved and analyzed quickly, not for rat poison traces, (that's never been an issue!) but for fertilization.

3. Here's John Blakeman's response, upon reading my letter:

Marie, Everything you wrote is accurate, except for the egg viability tests.

Yes, those should have been done, checking for egg cell diploidy (full, adult set of chromosomes), or, DNA sampling and analysis, or staining of the blastodisc, an embryonic structure found only in fertile eggs, or lastly, a general gross examination of egg contents to see any bones, flesh, or feathers from a developing eyass.

Ideally, these tests should be performed in June, shortly after the eggs are abandoned and before the eggs have a chance to degrade or rot. As it happened at the Fifth Ave. nest, perhaps unavoidably, both egg retrievals were done months after June, when the eggs could have rotted or degraded, negating any of the viability tests.

I've heard nothing back on the results of the analysis of the recently retrieved eggs. I don't know which tests were done, or what was actually looked for. I would like to learn of the disposition of the eggs. One certainly should have gone to the AMNH as both a historical and a scientific artifact.

We still have no DNA samples from either the parents or the eggs, unfortunately. But that's the sampling problem, a social and legal problem with egg removal, trapping and banding of eyasses and adults, or with blood sample extraction. None of that is going to happen in NYC, and I'm not going to even suggest any of it in the future. The scientific methods we can use to accurately characterize and understand wild populations of Red-tails are not available in New York City, for a long list of unconquerable reasons. Raptor science in NYC happens only behind optical instruments (and not so well at that, either).

4. In response to reading a copy of the above correspondence I sent him before posting, Glenn Phillips of the NYC Audubon sent a clarification:

Last year an unsuccessful attempt was made by DEC to retrieve the eggs early enough to tell if they had been fertilized, but because of Lola’s presence on the nest, that attempt was abandoned. (It’s not that anyone was unwilling to test the eggs, but that they were unable to.)

Because the eggs were so long exposed to the elements, there was no material to test anything other than the pesticide/toxin load, which was negligible, as reported in our press release. There wasn’t much more detail to release.

Whatever happens with the nest this year, we will never really know for certain what caused the problems.

PS Glenn has sent me more detailed information about the work that preceded the repairs at the Fifth Ave. nest last December, specifically, the experts' report and their recommendations for action. I'll post some details of this soon.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy reminder

The Vernal Equinox occurred at 1:48 a.m. TODAY!

Monk Parakeets are back

West Side Monk Parakeets last year -- photo by Lisiane Ribeiro, M.D.

From Lisiane Ribiero a week ago- [3/13/08]

I was wondering if anyone realized that the Monk Parakeets that lived on 103rd street and Amsterdam are back. I am not certain if their nest is at the same spot as last year, but I saw (and heard :) ) them on 103rd and Broadway today. Sending a few pics to you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pale Male and Lola teach snotty kid a good lesson

Karen Kolling asks a question and John Blakeman answers:

What does locking talons do when redtails fight, as in the photos of 3/17/08 on I would think it would really endanger their feet, and so possibly cause a serious or fatal injury. It doesn't seem like a good strategy.

Blakeman replies:
Actually, it's the opposite. The locked talons keeps the birds from sinking them into flesh, which really would be hazardous. The talon locking is rather ritualistic, keeping both birds from being seriously injured. Many animals have similar less-then-deadly intra-specific (same species) confrontation behaviors.
The young hawk learned its lesson. Stay away from 927 Fifth Ave. There's a pair of mean adults that will come right out and attack. The young bird was almost surely just moving north in migration and was unaware of the nest or territory. It's real mistake, however, was its failure to fly right off when it saw the resident bird approaching. It was acting like a snotty know-it-all adolescent. The attacking adult taught it a lesson that will never be lost upon any future visit to Central Park.
Personally, I've never seen such an encounter. In most cases, the passing bird recognizes its intrusive error at the first sight of the approaching resident, whereupon the non-resident literally turns tail and exits the territory. But this self-absorbed young bird had some lessons in Red-tail territorial etiquette to learn, which were well taught by the our resident adult.

--John Blakeman

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Leslie sees one seal and two hawks (and a PS at end)

Leslie Day, author of Field Guide to the Natural World of NYC writes on 3/16/08:

Hi Marie - Before I checked on the Riverside Park hawks, I walked down to the kayak dock at 72nd Steet on the Hudson and there was a harbor seal.

Then I walked north to check on the hawk nest. The female has been spending more and more time in the nest arranging branches. She was so far inside that, for awhile, I couldn't see her. Then she perched on the top just as the male arrived carrying a branch filled with oak leaves, which he spent time arranging. Here, she's looking down at his work and when he flew off, she went back inside the nest.

The Riverside pair --photo by Leslie Day -- 3/16/08

PS. Here's the jacket of Leslie's new book. It just went into a third printing!

PPS--I went down to check the nest last night, at about 7 pm, and guess what? The female is sitting on the nest for the night. Last night was the first time she did that, according to hawkwatcher Jean Dane. Eggs are on the way!

PPPS Leslie just sent an update:

The seal is back. It's spent the morning going on and off the 72nd St. kayak launch dock.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Brett's bird's-eye view of the nest

Brett Odom, whose office is right across from Junior and Charlotte's 35th floor aerie on 888 7th Avenue, has sent me these amazing shots. He writes:

The first is of Charlotte, the second is Junior, and the last is Charlotte landing, with Junior flying by with dried bark. The wind was blowing hard and I think Charlotte's difficult landing aborted his attempt so he had to swing back around and retry his landing. The photograph I took just a split second before this, shows Charlotte hitting the glass window before finally landing safely.

PS You can click on each photo to enlarge it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Junior and Charlotte Update

Junior and Charlotte's 888 7th Ave fledgling - July 1, 2007
Courtesy of

Brett Odom, whose office looks out on the 35th floor ledge at 888 7th Avenue where Charlotte and Junior nested last year, [and had a successful fledgling] sent in a note a few days ago:

Marie - It definitely looks like they will be using this nesting site [at 888 7th Ave.]. I was there for an hour and both of them brought several branches and nesting material to the site.

Brett Odom

Irene Payne, who lives on Central Park South and has long been following the career of the redtail pair now preparing to nest , sent in this news a week ago:

Sunday [3/9/08] Junior and Charlotte were wandering over the park together. He had an ordinary twig, but she had a pine sprig. That was a cheery sight after the previous discussion on your page. This morning Charlotte was also about with ordinary twigs. They are getting closer!