Friday, February 22, 2013

Red Tail Query and Blakeman Reply

  Pale Male on Flagpole in Central Park - photo by Lincoln Karim - 9/30/06

On February 20th I received the following report, via e-mail.:
My name is Robert Hartwick and I live in Westwood NJ.
I had a strange encounter with a Red Tail and I can't figure out what was happening.My wife and I used to feed the song birds with feeders in our backyard and would occasionally see a Red Tail perched on the back fence about 50ft away but nothing up close and personal as I am about to relate to you.

Last week as I was leaving my doctors office and walking toward my car in his parking lot I took out my car keys, pressed the remote to unlock my white Ford Taurus sedan. I opened the door and was about get in when I heard a high pitched rattling sound. This caught my attention and I looked up and there was big red sitting flat footed and facing me in the middle of the roof. He was only 2ft.from me(length of my arm) and I stood there and watched him. He didn't move or make any sounds,just stared at me so I stared back. He didn't even blink. In real time probably 30sec. Then I got in the car,started the engine and I could see him through the windshield as he flew away.
Do you have any idea what was happening? I've been wrestling with this for a week and I haven't the foggiest idea what was happening. 
Yours truly,
Bob H
           Robert J Hartwick 
P.S. He didn't even scratch the paint.

I sent the query on to the Ohio hawk expert, John Blakeman. His reply follows: 

Yes, this is strange --- but not unheard of. A Red-tail jumped up on a car in Philadelphia a year or so ago, and stood there while people watched close by. It may have brought a captured pigeon to consume on the car.
The exact reason this hawk perched itself on the car in the story is unknown. But the more significant matter, I think, is this. This was a Red-tail accustomed to cars and urban or suburban life, paying little
attention to close-by humans --- much in the manner of Pale Male and many of the other urban Red-tails of New York City.
Yes, until Pale Male and his urban counterparts revealed the potential of this species to become acclimated and tolerant (even unconcerned) about humans close at hand, this sort of encounter would have been readily dismissed or discredited. No longer. This was a 21-century urban or suburban Red-tail, for which the car was merely a temporary and convenient perch, and the driver pretty much a non-factor.
Now the vast majority of Red-tailed Hawks, both urban and rural, retain a wild wariness of humans or cars. But the Red-tail we know today, in many cases (as here) is not your Grandfather's Red-tail.
--John Blakeman