Saturday, January 01, 2005

Hawk watchers need to distinguish between pair-bonding

1/1/05 -- 1:55 p.m.
Just received the following correction from John Blakeman, for the item just below. So much for trying to be lady-like and avoid using the word "copulation"! It's great to have a scientist reading my website! I promise to avoid Victorian euphemisms from now on.

Marie,

Your New Year's Day note about the pair sitting next to each other, vocalizing, and sharing food, describe very normal behaviors for a well-bonded, experienced breeding pair at this time of the year.

You noted, quite accurately, that the pair will soon be "mating." But I think it's important to make a distinction between what we biologists would call "mating," and what the general public might regard "mating" to be. Biologists would presently regard the pair as "mated," meaning that they share the same territory, defend the territory, cooperate in building the nest, and participate in activities involved with rearing offspring.

The public, however, generally regards "mating" (as implied in your note) as copulation. As you know, red-tails can be promiscuously bold in their copulatory activities. The red-tail sex act takes only a few seconds, but it happens repeatedly during the prime sex-act days of February and March.

Hawk watchers need to distinguish between pair-bonding, the generalized, non-sexual "mating" of a male and a female, and specific copulation, the mounting by the male upon the back of the receptive female that produces fertile eggs.

We prefer to avoid the generic term "mating" altogether, and when appropriate, use "pair-bonding" and "copulating." Right now, the pair is strengthening the pair bond. Copulation will ensue in a month or so.

Indeed, these are "Red-tails in Love," encompassing all that that implies -- both long-term pair bonding and short-term copulation.

Sincerely,

John A. Blakeman

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

LATEST LETTER FROM JOHN BLAKEMAN, OHIO REDTAIL EXPERT

12/29/04 -- LATEST LETTER FROM JOHN BLAKEMAN, OHIO REDTAIL EXPERT responding to yesterday's happy posting about Pale Male and Lola bringing twigs to the nest.

Marie,

Frankly, I’m not surprised at all to learn of the pair's initial refurbishing of the nest. From their viewpoint, the nest site has always been there, the ledge. The removal of the nest material, albeit alarming to us humans, was not a matter of distress to the hawks. Their nests are made of sticks that soon rot or blow away. Rural redtails have to rebuild or refurbish every year, most often in annually different or alternate nest sites. This pair saw the ledge still sitting there, and for them, the nest site was still there, too. They aren't engineers and have no understanding of whether or not the new nest twigs that are rather randomly dropped onto the site will ever coalesce into a real nest structure. They pretty much just drop some twigs up there just to see what will happen.

In rural tree nests they do the same thing. They throw sticks into a likely tree crotch, hopping that some will stick. When they do, they bring more sticks quickly. Finally, when they can land on the pile, they start to tuck new sticks with their bill sideways down into the pile. It's this action that binds the nest together. (Of course, if the entire nest were blown or dropped from the tree or ledge, the entire structure instantly dismantles into a cascading of scattering sticks.)

Right now, I wouldn't expect any serious nest-making activities. (But this pair has done several things I didn't expect, so what do I know?) For the nonce, until hormones really start to flow in late January and February, it probably going to be just a pile of sticks being loaded onto the center of the ledge. Things will get serious when a hawk is first seen squatting down on the pile and it begins to tuck twigs in sideways and form a real central bowl. The pair will need to bring a lot of loose bark and other lining materials to make a tight, warm nest bottom. But they've done that many times before and will do it successfully again, baring any unforeseen interruptions.

The nest-building activities right now, the bringing of twigs to the nest, are the exact equivalent of a young couple's bringing unpacked boxes and furniture up into their new flat. The unpacking and room arrangement will be a bit later. In fact, I wouldn't be concerned if the pair even apparently abandons activities at the ledge in early January. Nest refurbishing may take a break after the pair reaffirms that the nest site, per se, is in tact. As I've always contended, the real show starts in late January and especially in February.

And lastly, I'm certain that you are correct in contending that rats are a much more significant prey species than I thought. If you or other humans can ever see a rat in the day, a red-tail can see multiples of those. Their eyes and brains are finely tuned to the movements of small rodents on the ground. A red-tail will never miss even the twitching of a daylight rat's whiskers. And once a rat steps sufficiently away from cover, the hawk will nail it. Like it or not, the NYC Norway rat is probably as important as NYC pigeons in the presence of red-tailed hawks at Central Parks.

As always, I thank you for your inordinate efforts on behalf of this red-tail pair. Those efforts really extend outward to all of us who love this species. Things are, indeed, looking good.


Sincerely,

John A. Blakeman

LATEST LETTER FROM JOHN BLAKEMAN

LATEST LETTER FROM JOHN BLAKEMAN, OHIO REDTAIL EXPERT responding to yesterday's happy posting about Pale Male and Lola bringing twigs to the nest.

Marie,

Frankly, I’m not surprised at all to learn of the pair's initial refurbishing of the nest. From their viewpoint, the nest site has always been there, the ledge. The removal of the nest material, albeit alarming to us humans, was not a matter of distress to the hawks. Their nests are made of sticks that soon rot or blow away. Rural redtails have to rebuild or refurbish every year, most often in annually different or alternate nest sites. This pair saw the ledge still sitting there, and for them, the nest site was still there, too. They aren't engineers and have no understanding of whether or not the new nest twigs that are rather randomly dropped onto the site will ever coalesce into a real nest structure. They pretty much just drop some twigs up there just to see what will happen.

In rural tree nests they do the same thing. They throw sticks into a likely tree crotch, hopping that some will stick. When they do, they bring more sticks quickly. Finally, when they can land on the pile, they start to tuck new sticks with their bill sideways down into the pile. It's this action that binds the nest together. (Of course, if the entire nest were blown or dropped from the tree or ledge, the entire structure instantly dismantles into a cascading of scattering sticks.)

Right now, I wouldn't expect any serious nest-making activities. (But this pair has done several things I didn't expect, so what do I know?) For the nonce, until hormones really start to flow in late January and February, it probably going to be just a pile of sticks being loaded onto the center of the ledge. Things will get serious when a hawk is first seen squatting down on the pile and it begins to tuck twigs in sideways and form a real central bowl. The pair will need to bring a lot of loose bark and other lining materials to make a tight, warm nest bottom. But they've done that many times before and will do it successfully again, baring any unforeseen interruptions.

The nest-building activities right now, the bringing of twigs to the nest, are the exact equivalent of a young couple's bringing unpacked boxes and furniture up into their new flat. The unpacking and room arrangement will be a bit later. In fact, I wouldn't be concerned if the pair even apparently abandons activities at the ledge in early January. Nest refurbishing may take a break after the pair reaffirms that the nest site, per se, is in tact. As I've always contended, the real show starts in late January and especially in February.

And lastly, I'm certain that you are correct in contending that rats are a much more significant prey species than I thought. If you or other humans can ever see a rat in the day, a red-tail can see multiples of those. Their eyes and brains are finely tuned to the movements of small rodents on the ground. A red-tail will never miss even the twitching of a daylight rat's whiskers. And once a rat steps sufficiently away from cover, the hawk will nail it. Like it or not, the NYC Norway rat is probably as important as NYC pigeons in the presence of red-tailed hawks at Central Parks.

As always, I thank you for your inordinate efforts on behalf of this red-tail pair. Those efforts really extend outward to all of us who love this species. Things are, indeed, looking good.


Sincerely,

John A. Blakeman