Friday, February 25, 2005


Within an hour of posting the photo and exchange of e-mails below. concerning Pale Male's beak condition, I received two responses; the first was a most informative and welcome discussion of redtail table manners from John Blakeman. The other, an emotional comment that echoed my own reaction to the photo, from Linda Most of Tallahassee, Florida.


One added note about the "stuff" on Pale Male's beak while feeding. Lincoln was absolutely correct, it's just harmless remnants of the pigeon he's consuming.

As I think I mentioned previously, hawks don't eat with much decorum. They'd be tossed out of all New York restaurants. Feathers or fur, skin, blood, and other disagreeable body parts are just tossed in all directions. And they try to consume as much in one bite as possible. It's really gross to watch a red-tail consume it's favored food (out in rural areas), the ubiquitous meadow vole. If it's not in a hurry, it will pull the rodent apart in several large pieces. But if in haste, it will try to swallow the animal in its entirety. One gulp gets the vole into the mouth, and a second, seemingly labored one, gets the vole all the way down.

Where were the mothers of these birds when the should have been teaching good table manners? Well, they were out looking for more food to feed the ravenous eyasses growing up on the nest. And when there are two or three, as has been the case of the 927 nest, the youngsters can get a bit possessive about the food dropped on to the nest. Fine culinary deportment is just not a part of a red-tail's behavioral repertoire.

So if any hawk watchers get to see a bird feed, as in Lincoln's superb photo (Aren't they all just spectacular?), don't be alarmed at the wild messiness of it all.

But at the end, our raptorial friends do exhibit a final gesture of cleanliness. Almost universally the hawk will do two things after feeding. The first is to "feak," to carefully wipe her beak back and forth on the branch she's sitting on. This wipes off all the food leavings, except for some blood stains which might remain. One of the first things I always look at when trapping a wild red-tail is to examine the beak and talons for whatever remnants of a recent meal might be present. Often times, some vole or rabbit hairs are lodged between the toes, or are found adhering to a feather. But the birds, especially adults, are pretty fastidious after eating.

The last thing the bird does after eating and feaking, is to "rouse." After stropping its beak clean, feaking, the bird then straightens up and shakes its entire body, just like a wet dog after it crawls out of the pond. This rousing (a falconer's term) re-settles the feathers into their natural places. The bird then feels satisfied and contented. We falconers know that if we don't see our birds rousing from time to time, especially after a meal, something is wrong. Rousing indicates a happy hawk.

Pale Male surely feaked and roused after his fine pigeon repast. Life is good for him in Central Park and at 927 Park Ave. He rouses often.


John A. Blakeman