Monday, June 27, 2005

Other Pale Males? Yes says Blakeman


Sometime ago the question was asked if Pale Male's light-colored head was common in red-tails. It surely is not. But color does vary from bird to bird, just as Pale Male Jr's light-colored head contrasts with the dark head and back of Charlotte.

Yesterday, as I was driving down a 4-lane highway not far from my house here in northern Ohio, and I couldn't help notice a small red-tail sitting on a fence post along the road. He was in a hunting posture, looking for a plump vole.

But what really caught my attention (at about 55 mph) was the blond brightness of the bird's head. He looked even more pale than Pale Male. Because of traffic, I was not able to stop and put my binoculars on him or snap a photo, but his light head color stood out. In passing, I saw him perched for no more than 4 seconds, but his plumage features were very clear.

So, Pale Male Sr. and Jr. are not the only light-colored red-tails soaring the skies of the East or Midwest. Seeing this local pale bird brought a broad smile to my face. Biologically, it was the closest I've been to Central Park. I'll keep my eyes posted for another appearance of the bird in the same area.

(Tangentially, I'm certain that God gave dedicated hawk watchers two eyes for a good purpose when driving -- one eye for the road, the other to search for perched hawks. For me, there are two visual diversions when traveling along our flat and boring Interstates, one to look in the ditches and field corners for rare prairie plants, and also to scan the fenceposts, utility poles, and woodlot edges for perched red-tails. Frankly, I'm quite good at this now, after 40 years of practice. That's how I saw this new pale male. Hundreds of other cars passed by without a glance at the bird.)

There was no doubt that my pale hawk was a male, like the two Central Park birds, which raises the question of whether or not this coloration is found only in males. If so, it's an unrecognized sexual dimorphism in red-tails. But just three specimens don't validate any such conjecture.

And of course, my pale male raises the question of whether or not Pale Male Jr. is a descendant of Pale Male Sr. He probably is, but the minor chance remains that he isn't, that he's just another, uncommon, light-colored bird.


John A. Blakeman