Saturday, March 05, 2005

Lining the Nest

Lining the Nest

Yesterday afternoon at about 4:45 pm Pale Male, who had been perched on the Oreo building at Fifth Ave and 81st St street, flew to a terrace on a high floor of Woody's building, broke off a small branch from an ornamental shrub someone had paid big bucks to have planted there [a shrub that already looked pretty scraggly from previous depredations] and brought it to the nest. He circled around it first, flying almost to 72nd street to the south, and then past the nest again to the north, as if trying to avoid giving away its location. He doesn't seem to know or care that through the various telescopes set up at the model-boat pond, and on the giant video screen of Lincoln's telescope hundreds of people were watching every move he made .

The hawk patriarch worked the stick into the center of the nest,, and then broke off a part of a twig sticking up to the right, and wove it in somewhere out of our sight. A little before 5 p.m he flew off towards the boathouse. No deceptive circling on the way out as he does on the way in.

Lola, a few minutes later, flew from her perch on the Oreo Building and landed on a different terrace garden a few buildings to the north of Woody's. She hopped onto the terrace floor. Through the slats of a railing, [and on Lincoln's video screen, since he had focused his telescope on her as she landed] she could be seen digging around in a planting bed. Soon she hopped onto the railing with something brownish in her beak-- leaves, or moss or something else soft and mushy -- and flew directly to the nest. Lola never does any circling and feinting when she arrives at the nest.

At the Hawk Bench we could see her deposit the brownish stuff into the nest and seem to be tamping it down. It was clearly lining material. For a few days now both hawks had been bringing in strips of bark -- also lining material.

Nest-lining is the last stage of the nest-building process. Its purpose is to plug up any holes that might allow cold air into the nest and interfere with the incubation of the eggs. A nest, after all, is not a hawk's home. It is a place to lay eggs and keep the young alive until they are ready to fledge. The lining materials will help to keep the eggs warm during incubation. The finer lining materials will also serve to shed water, to cushion the eggs, to insulate them. In a nest made on top of sharp anti-pigeon spikes such as Pale Male's and Lola's the lining stage is especially important, it seems to me.

Since we have been watching the hawks bringiing in twigs, hundreds upon hundreds of them, for the last month, how, in fact, do they know when they have enough twigs and can begin the nest-lining process?

According to Christopher Leahy in the Birdwatcher's Companion, , birds have an innate mental program showing them what the nest is supposed to look like at various stages of construction. "When one stage has been adequately completed, the bird gets a 'sense of satisfaction' and has the urge to proceed, so to speak, to the next illustration in the mental plan."

Presumably, then, the "urge to proceed" denotes a new hormone kicking in, one which induces the birds to stop breaking off twigs for the nest. Instead, they begin to collect the finer materials that go into the lining and deliver those to the twig structure they have previously formed.

Egg laying and incubation should follow within the next week or two. When you think of where we were last December 7th, with a bare ledge where once the nest had stood, and today, with Pale Male and Lola's nest approaching completion, it is enough to make one stop feeling glum about the state of the world, and begin to hope that somehow there is hope for our diminished planet.


David Gray, a new hawkwatcher, sent me this picture of Pale Male and prey, taken on 2/27/05 at Cedar Hill. He thought it was a pigeon. I'm wondering if it isn't a starling. Isn't that a sharp yellow beak sticking up there?

John Blakeman writes:

" The current posts on hunting observations are really filling in holes of comprehension. I'll have more next week."

Thursday, March 03, 2005



This note is from Phoebe Epstein, a long time member of our Wednesday morning birdwatching group -- the Early Birders. [We meet at 7:00 a.m -- is that early?.]

I've been reading with interest your postings from John Blakeman about how hawks hunt in NYC. I was one of the people (along with Ardith) who, a couple of years back, witnessed a red-tail snag a pigeon on 95th Street and Broadway. I don't know if what I saw adds to John's understanding, but I thought it might be worth sharing.

The "victim" was perched on a wrought-iron railing in front of a third-floor window on Broadway. The hawk swooped down--out of nowhere, it seemed to me--and grabbed the pigeon in one fluid movement. He held the pigeon in his talons and took it to a tree in the Broadway median between 94th and 95th Street and proceeded to devour the bird. It took about 20 minutes. When he was done, all that was left were some feathers and the wings which the hawk had stripped off early on and dropped to the ground.

I'd have to say that the hawk seemed very skilled at this type of capture. He didn't hit the window, didn't miss a beat or fumble with his prey. The crowd that watched him eat the pigeon was pretty interesting too! Perhaps I'll save that for another time.

Thanks for letting us all in on John's observations. I really enjoy reading them.




Ms. Winn,

John Blakeman has noted how the abundance of food has created a saturation of redtail hawks in Central Park. As well, other birdwatchers have reported sighting alarming territorial breeches by falcons near Mr. Pale Male's nest. While we must keep our emotions in check and exercise scientific awareness of the conflation of natural forces: abundance of prey, species saturation, and competition among the species -- is there any record of nonhuman immiment threats to Pale Male and Lola's brood or for redtails in the wild?

I absolutely love your website and would like to mention Pennsylvania also has it's own set of avian celebrities. Captivating Falcon stories are posted from all over the United States.

With Sincere Gratitude,
Gabby De Acosta
Philadelphia, PA

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


3/2/05 -- 7-9 a.m. Seen by the Early Birders -- Highlights:

Woodcock - in the Oven
Savannah Sparrow, near Azalea Pond
Cedar Waxwing flock
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Fox Sparrow
Hairy Woodpecker


Tuesday, March 1st - Around 3:45pm, as two Peregrine Falcons came into
PaleMale's view, he flew off the Fisher building and circled over the Model Boat
Pond. I was sitting in a quiet corner of the park, so I could see and hear
PaleMale gently calling to Lola. She was on the Linda building, his call did not
sound alarming but curiously reassuring. Contrary to the last time a Peregrine
came by, she stayed still during the entire encounter.

PaleMale soared solo in circles. He was gliding north and they were flapping
south. He seemed to present a languid defense as they all converged. His
technic in this encounter with two Peregrines was very different than the last; I
have seen him do this with a mob of Crows.

PaleMale presented himself as an easy target, he flew close enough to the
Peregrines to get them to dive at him, even to the point of almost being hit.
After a few scarey passes, PaleMale seemed to calculate their speed, angle and
style. During the next several attacks, PaleMale spun, tumbled, turned and
recovered at the last split second with deliberate intention. He was then directly
behind and above the attacker, in a perfect position to counter punch but
calmly awaited the second falcon's dive. Had these been Crows, I have seen him use
this method to pick one off after another, up to 15 to 20 of them, smacked
from the rear.

With the Peregrines, he let them take their best shot and because they kept
missing him, he gained the upper hand. The Peregrine pair abandoned their
attack and were sternly escorted further south by PaleMale. As they left his
terrirory, he perched at 71st and Fifth to watch them go.

Ten minutes later, PaleMale flew back to Lola. She lowered her body to
receive him and he landed on top of her. While mating, PaleMale's call sounded much
louder, more clear and, to me, mirthfully tiumphant.

__ Kentaurian __

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Reflections on Christo

Reflections on Christo


Even before Sunday, the last day of The Gates, I had begun to mellow on the thing. You may recall that I had started out an implacable enemy of the project. In a statement a while back [It's somewhere on the Latest News page] I gave my reasons for believing that The Gates did not belong in Central Park.

By February 24 I couldn't help noticing that there was something about The Gates that was having a favorable effect on people, and I recanted somewhat in a comment that day

Then last Sunday I had an epiphany. The park was jam-packed with people taking in The Gates on its last official day, and I was struck by the remarkable aura of good feeling that permeated Central Park. There were families all walking together in peace and harmony. Husbands and wives were conversing amicably. The children were cheerful, well-behaved, rosy-cheeked from the cold. Nobody was arguing, it seemed, nobody was scolding, nopbody was complaining, or sulking, or reprimanding. It was sort of like those movies of the 1950's depicting small-town virtues and a kind of family happiness that everybody knew was a Hollywood artifact. Here it was, in living, albeit garish color.

There were the tourists with their cameras, the dog walkers, the little packs of teenagers -- and everyone was smiling. Well all right. Not everyone. But cheerfulness was in the air.

This happens in New York every so often. It happens during blizzards. It happens during terrible heat waves. It happened after JFK was assassinated, and after the terrible events of 9/11. New Yorkers are transformed into friendly creatures.

Something about the great scope of the project, the vast numbers of those orange curtains weaving their way around Central Park, something about the enormity of it [to say nothing of the media blitz accompanying it and transforming it into a "happening"] worked on New Yorkers and visitors alike in the way that snowstorms and hurricanes and national tragedies did in the past. It tied people together, somehow. A shared experience in Central Park disarmed them, turned their natural defensiveness into a kind of bliss.

I left the park at West 72nd St. Still warmed by the spirit of the Gates I decided to walk home. Only a mile and a half. I walked west to Broadway and turned north. Then, as I passed Fairway on Broadway and 74th St., I remembered I needed to buy some vegetables -- leeks, turnips, Italian parsley--for a particular soup I was planning for that evening.

Again, for those of you unfamiliar with New York, Fairway is a West Side institution, a hugely popular food store specializing in good, fresh produce, usually at prices a bit lower than you'd have to pay at the average supermarket. I knew I'd get better, cheaper vegetables there.

I almost did an about-face when I walked in. The place was as crowded as Central Park on the last day of the Christo exhibit. But good cheer did not reign at Fairway. Though the population did not look any different -- a solid middle-class, well-dressed crowd --nobody was smiling. Everybody-- well, almost everybody-- was scowling. "Stop pushing!": a man snarled at me as I accidently jostled him with my shopping cart. It wasn't that I wasn't careful. Someone had pushed me from behind.

It was Hell, something straight out of Hieronymus Bosch. A mass of the doomed, writhing, wrangling, miserable creatures.

This too was a New York experience. Fairway on a nice Sunday afternoon. Crowded into a place just a bit too small for their numbers, looking for bargains just as I was, people had been transformed into their worst selves. You should have heard what I answered back to the guy who said "Stop pushing!"

It is what John Blakeman has called the "the importance of Place." The same people...blissed out at the expansive spaciousness of the Gates, turned into monsters in the claustrophobic hellhole of Fairway on Sunday.

Go figure.

A Field Report and Another Look at the Peregrine Battle

A Field Report and Another Look at the Peregrine Battle

Field Notes 3/1/2005
3:40PM Lola perched reversed on Linda 3. Two
Peregrines flew in from the east and began diving at
Pale Male. No contact but much weaving and aerial
gyrations including Pale Male turning ventral up,
talons at the ready.

4:00PM Peregrines fly south pursued by Pale male
4:03PM Pale Male returns to Linda 3, copulation
(Above observations received from Stella Hamilton and
Katherine Herzog)

4:04PM Pale Male flies to nest, inspects and arranges
nesting material, surveys the area

4:40PM Pale Male off nest, circles over Oreo and
circles Ship Shape

4:43PM Lola still perched in reverse on Linda 3, Pale
Male flies to Linda 3, copulation

4:44PM Lola reversed perched on right of Linda 3, Pale
Male forward perched left of Linda 3

5:09PM Pale Male up and perches on railing of Ship
Shape near dishes.

5:10PM Pale Male up with speed, Peregrine from north
and above dives, Pale Male rolls. Peregrine and Pale
Male go north. Second Peregrine seen zipping from
north to south nest level towards Lola. Lola though
still reversed perched almost intercepts, chases
Peregrine south with vigor.

5:11PM Red-tail call from south
(Distracted by information seeking tourists)

5:30PM Pale Male and Lola both perched Linda 3
5:40PM French Tourists borrow field glasses, both
birds perched Linda 3
5:45PM Field glasses returned, Pale Male gone
6:06PM Quite dark, Lola still perched Linda 3,roost?
6:06-7:04 Unable to find Pale Male's roost
Submitted Donna Browne,

Yet another Observer of the Peregrine Attack

Tues, Mar 1 (2:30 - 5:05pm): Little action until 3:45 when Pale Male encountered one, and then two peregrine falcons above the nest. An intense aerial "dog-fight" went on for several minutes as the two falcons took turns diving at very high speed at Pale Male. Eventually, Pale drove them off but it was quite alarming for the hawk watchers standing helplessly by. I have usually seen Lola join in driving off attacking or intruding birds but she sat on Linda #3 facing toward the window. About 20 minutes later Pale Male joined her there and mated with her. Pale Male then flew to the nest and starting moving and checking the sticks and twigs. At 4:45 Pale Male flew to Lola at Linda #3 and mated again....they sat there side by side as I left the park at 5:05pm.

Katherine Herzog

Karen Anne Kolling wrote, after reading the Blakeman on Pigeons:

This is now starting to make some sense to me.

But how do they capture rats?

Probably the same way. The rats are probably eating the food put out for the birds.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Wood Duck


2/28/05 --- For the last two weeks a male Wood Duck, one of our most spectacularly beautiful waterfowl, has been visiting The Lake. More than a decade ago Wood Duck boxes were installed in various locations in the park, in hope of enticing this species to nest. But no luck. We'll have to be content with its annual visits.

Meanwhile, as spring approaches, signs of the oncoming season are everywhere. Yesterday a Woodcock was sighted in the Oven. [Of course I'm talking about a park location, not a kitchen appliance.]
There are buds on the forsythias. The Snowdrops are almost finished, and other bulbs are beginning to be seen. The sound of birdsong is much louder throughout the park, especially the House Finches, which began to sing a few weeks ago. The Cardinals are singing more persistently every day.

And, of course, Pale Male and Lola are...OK, I'll have to get used to it...copulating, many times a day, often to the accompaniment of loud cheers from the Hawk Bench. As they say, "In the spring a young hawk's fancy..."