Thursday, March 31, 2005

BLAKEMAN ON "PALE MALE"

John Blakeman writes that he and his wife finally had a chance to see a video of Frederic Lilien's PALE MALE. Here are some comments about what he saw in the film:

Marie,
... I have to comment on two specific scenes. First was the somewhat disconcerting footage of the newly-fledged eyass hanging forlornly upside down in the tree. Just as the camera panned toward this spectacle, I told my wife that the bird is going to be hanging precariously upside down. And it was. Classic first flight complications. Few people ever get to see this. Those in Central Park did, and just as it usually does in wild rural areas, the birds quickly learn how to land and take off in trees. For a day or so, these simple actions are not so simple.

The other scene was the quick plunge of Pale Male into the foliage of a tree to snag a perched pigeon. This is what I really wanted to see. You know that I've always had questions about the hunting techniques of the CP red-tails. What I saw in this one or two seconds of a red-tail hunt was revelatory. Falconers who fly red-tails would recognize this hunt instantly. It was a classic wing-over brush crash. The hawk flies not high over an area with prey. When prey is spotted, the hawk instantly folds its wings over and inverts itself. All of its forward momentum is instantly directed downward. In the plunge it folds its wings and crashes through the vegetation at an exceptional speed. I've watched my falconry birds do this many times, and each time it is breathtaking. The red-tail can drop 50 to 100 ft. straight down with folded wings right to the ground, hitting the earth at what must be 50-70 mph. When this is first observed, the hawk's instant death seems inevitable. A striking low thud is heard as the bird's plunge is instantly stopped by the earth. The bird is presumed dead.

But in fact, red-tails are adapted to this earth-crashing mode of hunting. In a fraction of a second before striking the ground, the bird extends its very long legs out in front of its head, and its leg musculature is perfectly adapted to cushion the collision with the ground. It is a remarkable event to watch, and only falconers have seen it frequently up close. I am still awed every time I see it, after 30 years or so.

This was Pale Male's method of plucking the pigeon, who thought it was safe within the confines of the tree's vegetation. The pigeon was betrayed by its inadequate instincts. A peregrine will never plunge into tree branches, as this smaller raptor can be hurt thereby. The big, muscular red-tail, however, has a propensity to brush-crash, when food conveniently presents itself. The pigeon had no genetic prompt regarding its perched vulnerability to our marauding red-tail. Any pigeon that elects to perch in a tree, thinking it's thereby safe from raptors (as it would be in its ancestral native homeland of the rocky Middle East and Central Asia), is likely to lethally contribute its proteins to our hawks. That single one or two seconds of the Pale Male DVD explained, to me anyway, how pigeons can be captured by the red-tail, a raptor that nowhere else is noted for pigeon hunting.

A great program. So good to see and hear the actual people and live hawks of your wonderful book.

Sincerely,

John A. Blakeman