Monday, December 28, 2009

Q & A with John Blakeman

Pale Male perching at the Great Lawn
December 23, 2009

Photo courtesy of

Letter received last week and forwarded to John Blakeman:

Hi When you have a moment could you or John Blakeman offer your input. I am an avid fan of Redtails.I live in Toronto Canada and notice redtails perched on small rusty metal snow fence poles by my work. As a experiment I put a natural thick tree branch about a foot wide on pole and to my surprise they started using it right away. I am planning to make more , but am leery of using a wrapped rope perch (rope made in china/chemicals? ,same with astro turf ) I have a neoprene rubber tube i was thinking of sliding over wood on perch. However I do not want to harm instead of helping . Would this cause bumblefoot or another ailment,i figure its a hell of a lot better than a narrow sharp rusty tbar that they were using. The neoprene would be really soft (comfy)and water repellant.
This is by an airfield where they have limited perches and have to use precious energy to hover in winter. If neoprene isnt recommended wouldnt a rope wrap get mould /bacteria from being constantly wet in elements.. I just figured it would be more comfortable than a tree branch Sorry for long winded question and grammar. Thanks Dave Brooks

Blakeman's answer:

Dave (and Marie),
Very good questions, regarding an appropriate Red-tailed Hawk perch material. This is a topic falconers have long attended to, very successfully.
Frankly, red-tails care very little for the actual material they prefer to perch upon. Far more important are the locations, height, and shape of their desired perches. Unlike true falcons, red-tails virtually never get bumblefoot (a festering, open sore on the bottom of the feet) from bad perches. Red-tails are virtually immune to this malady.
So there is no need to mess with any sort of covering material. The best thing would be to get the right shape, size, and height. The right shape is a horizontal bar of some sort, at least 6-inches wide. Ten or 15 is probably better.
Size is important, although red-tails perch on everything from a quarter-inch electrical wire on up to entirely flat ledges. Preferred, however, are round limbs or dowels about 1.5 inches in diameter, preferably of plain wood.
And then, higher is better.
But after all of this, I remain very hesitant about doing anything to cause red-tails to perch at your location. I think this would be placing lives, those of the hawks, and more significantly, those of humans in the airplanes that use the airport, in great danger. This is a growing problem, for which there are few welcome solutions.
As it happens, I confer with the world's experts on bird strikes, who have a major laboratory right here in Erie County, Ohio, at the NASA Plum Brook Station, a 10-thousand acre research center that, among other things, is the site for the government's major bird strike laboratory. I know these people well, and they confer with me from time to time, because red-tailed hawks are taking up residence at airports, creating profound bird-strike hazards for aircraft.
It's one thing for a starling or pigeon to be sucked into a jet engine. All modern jet engines are engineered to withstand ingestion of smaller birds such as these. But a Canada goose, or red-tailed hawk, is another matter entirely. A pigeon can bounce lethally off a wing or windshield of an aircraft. But if the plane strikes a soaring red-tail, it is likely to cause severe, even lethal damage to the aircraft, either with the motor, propeller, or wing surfaces.
Airport officials are legitimately concerned about red-tails lingering (and hunting) in the airspace used by aircraft. At the Plum Brook Station research site, the scientists there are experimenting with various grasses and mowing techniques, so as to reduce meadow vole and other rodent populations that red-tails prey upon. Every effort is being made to make airports red-tail averse, and legitimately so. As much as I love these great birds, they have no modern legitimacy in the airspace of an airport. I concur with the sometimes-required lethal control methods of airport red-tails.
As fine as your perch construction motivations are, I would strongly suggest that you not go forward with this within a mile of any airport. The hazards, to both birds and aircraft, are too great.

Dave replies:

Thank You ,

I have received answer from the expert. I will refrain from assisting with perches due to proximity to airport.He also gave tips on suitable perches. Glad I checked, sometimes the best intentions backfire.

Thanks Dave

One week later

Central Park -- Decmber 21, 2009
photo by Damon Winter, New York Times

Central Park, one week later:

photo by Murray Head