[click on photo to enlarge]
One of the photos of www.palemale.com
this morning shows one of the 927 birds bringing a small pine sprig to the nest. This is a very good sign. The pine sprig is not merely incidental.
The majority of rural Red-tail nests have these sprigs, even in areas where pines are uncommon. Those of us who study Red-tail nests note the almost universal presence of these evergreen sprigs. We do not know exactly why Red-tails have such an affinity for these, but the majority of active nests have them.
It is thought that the pine fragrance from the twig might repel feather lice and other external parasites, although the sprigs don't seem to placed in the nest with any such intent. If the sprigs were to serve as a louse repellant, they should be put right next to the eggs, under the sitting bird. But more often, they just get placed with all the other structural sticks or out in the open parts of the nest rim.
A second, probably more valid thought is that the green twigs serve as strong signals for nesting and copulating behaviors. The sprigs may be mutually-recognized indicators that nesting, copulation, and eventual eyass-raising will be deliberate, intense, continuing, and purposeful -- green little love notes between the couple, as it were.
If the reasons for pine sprigs at Red-tail nests include any of the latter, and I personally believe this to be the case, the bringing of a pine sprig to the nest this year portends good things.
Again, these sprigs are almost universal in functioning Red-tail nests, and I've always privately wondered why there were no reports of abundant pine sprigs at the 927 nest in previous years. There are certainly a plethora of pines over in the park from which to pluck the sprigs. Some of our Ohio Red-tails have to fly several miles to find a farm-house pine tree as a source. In some areas, there are simply no pines within flying distance and the nests lack any typical greenery.
So, I was very delighted to see this hopeful photograph. It indicates that Pale Male and Lola are going about nest refurbishment with complete thoroughness. They are acting once again like practiced adult Red-tails, fully intent on bringing off a brood of eyasses this year.
The pine sprig, a very positive indication.
--John A. Blakeman