Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is Pale Male still in charge? John Blakeman answers and PS

Pale Male flying peacefully with unknown juvenile
Photo courtesy of

Mai Stewart, a long-time Pale Male observer and fan, wrote John Blakeman on 9/20/10 with a question:

Hi John,

I was intrigued [on the website of 9/19/10] to see pix of a juvenile RT flying very close to Pale Male -- and PM didn't seem bothered by it, or taking any action to scare the young one away.

Is this usual? I thought adult Redtails were very protective of their territories and didn't abide any intrusion by any other RTs. Does PM recognize the youth or inexperience of the young one and doesn't mind? Or does it simply have to do w/ the time of year, i.e., would PM (most likely) be more aggressive and protective during mating/nesting seasons?

I'd be interested in any thoughts you have about this...
Many thanks,


John Blakeman replied:


I, too, saw the photo of the immature red-tail flying right over Pale Male. Looked like a large formal, a female.

This is rather normal right now. PM recognized that this bird is drifting through, up in the air. If she tried to drop down and land in a tree or on a building below, he would have been a bit more insistent. But this is a classic "passager," an immature in its autumnal migration. The bird could have hatched anywhere in the immediate area, or on up the Hudson into anywhere in New England or Quebec. The red-tail migration is just starting.

Right now, the migrants are slowly drifting south. In two weeks, things will be much more organized, with much longer daily flights.

But, again, because this is a recognized migrant, Pale Male had no concerns. I see this all the time here at the western end of Lake Erie, where we will be having a continuous stream of red-tails passing down from Michigan and Ontario, far overhead. The local adults look up and see this elevated parade of migrants, but pay absolutely no attention to it. It's only when there is a "drop out," when the weather changes and the migrants come down to park for a day or so, that the local adults get concerned.

But even then, they often realize that these new birds are just waiting for the winds and weather to change, so they allow them to hang around for a day or two. The adults will, however, tend to push the transient hawks out to the edge of prime habitat. The birds in passage don't really contest this, as they are merely waiting for better weather to push them southward.

This is not the case, however, in late November and December, after the migration is finished. Then. there can be some more contentious late fall and early winter confrontations between migrants and residents. In the best areas, with lots of vole habitat (weedy fields), both populations want access. In this case, the local adults will defend their best areas, driving the young further to the edge, into less favorable habitats.

Still, it seems that by the time winter really sets in, in December, both populations seem to accommodate each other and things settle down for the winter without any continuing conflict. That all changes in February and March, when the breeding season resumes. But right now, that's a long way off.

--John Blakeman

PS from Marie: Happy first day of Fall.