Thursday, June 11, 2009

The joys of downtown hawk watching

Yesterday afternoon, I was reminded again how remarkable an experience it is to watch this pair of red tail hawks raising their family amid the skyscrapers and expressways of downtown Philadelphia.
I spent a couple of hours on the street outside the Franklin Institute observing the nest and the surrounding buildings and trees hoping to see the eyasses and their parents.

I was joined by Kay Meng who took the remarkable images you see here, and several other hawkaholics. It was a humid, hazy afternoon, and for the first hour we saw nothing but an empty nest and empty sky. We entertained ourselves and our Twittering followers by parading on the sidewalk where the hawkcam inside the Franklin could pick us up, and then watching this idiocy on my laptop - hawkwatchers watching hawkwatchers watching hawkwatchers!

Suddenly, from nowhere a parent hawk flew past the empty nest with a large mouse in its talons, and settled on a ledge near the top of the Franklin's roof. A few moments later, an eyass flew in from the trees lining the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and tried to land near its parent.

It misjudged the ledge and had to cling onto the moulding. It then tried to literally climb up the wall, couldn't get a grip, and had to drop into a tree on Winter Street down below.

The mouse-carrying parent then flew from the roof down to the street, paused almost as if wanting the youngster to see where it was, then flew up into a nearby tree and started calling to the eyass to join it. The eyass flew over and made a wobbly, but much better landing near its parent and was promptly rewarded with the mouse.

Then came the big test - balancing on the branch while holding the mouse with one foot, and then trying to eat it!

While all this was happening, one of the hawkwatchers noticed the other parent sitting on a lamp post, then saw an eyass on top of a nearby monument. This was really exciting as we had four of our five hawks in sight!

The fun began when these hawks started moving. The parent with the mouse left it with the tree eyass and flew up the Parkway, chased furiously by a flock of small birds which it totally ignored. The monument eyass flew into a nearby tree, and we suddenly saw that it was joining the third sibling which had been perching there unnoticed. In all this excitement, we did not see the lamp post parent leave. The mouse eyass finished her mouse and flew strongly out of tree, across Parkway and into another tree. So we had three eyasses in trees, but no parents.

There was a pause in the action, and we looked in awe at the astonishing images that Kay had captured. Every so often, someone would swing their binoculars over to the trees to check on the eyasses, but not much was happening.

Then in the space of about ten minutes we had more hawk action than we could keep up with. I was Twittering away on my laptop as my binoculared compadres were calling out:
"Parent just landed in nest and flown back to tree to feed squawking eyass."
" I've got dad or mom - hard to know. It's sitting on the lamp post."
"Incoming hawks! One on top of the pediment over Fels entrance, and one in tree on Winter Street."
" I've got a parent on top of the FI. I can see a red tail."
" OK - we've got one in the nest, one in the tree and one on the FI."
"The FI parent just took off across the Ben Franklin Parkway towards trees by the Free Library."
" The eyass is still in tree. Dad landed on a window ledge three windows to left of nest."

And so it continued with the birds zipping from one spot to another, while we played Where's Waldo with hawks! And then the magical moment when we knew for sure that this precious hawk family was fully intact:

"OK - we've got an eyass on the monument, one in the tree, mom's flying over there, and dad and one eyass are on the roof - we've got all five!"

So our hawk family is doing just beautifully, thriving in their downtown landscape, while we have the privilege to watch them continue to raise and teach their youngsters the ways of urban hawkdom.


  1. The pics and the commentary are simply magnificent! You two make a great team. :-)

  2. I agree with JJ; the two of you absolutely could make a living at this if you wanted to. Or you could just continue having a great time with no commercial pressure! At any rate, it's been (and continues to be) my distinct pleasure to reap the benefits of your abilities and wit.

  3. The hawk saga has been amazing for my children to see and now read about. Thanks for blogging! We are enjoying every morsel.

  4. What a great post. The story and the picture are just amazing. Wish I could have been there.

  5. Della you are as wonderful a story teller as Kay is a photographer. Thank you both for adding your talents to this already magnificent adventure.

  6. Until now, my updates were from the cam. I'm so glad to know the hawks are doing well -- thank you for keeping us informed when we can no longer see what's happening!