Sunday, August 9, 2009

Busy weekend for hawk watchers!

Friday, August 7 gave us a spectacular morning of hawk watching down by the Franklin Institute and along the Parkway. It was a relatively cool, sunny morning with low humidity and a light breeze. We've begun to notice that the hawks share our weather preferences, and are more active when it is more pleasant -- at least in the early morning.

I was down there with Kay and Carolyn at 6 AM and we were joined by Barbara Reisenwitz and her eleven year old daughter Annie. At first, we could see no hawks, but Annie's sharp eyes spotted a hawk on the nest - right at the back. We crossed the Parkway and were back on the familiar territory of Winter Street, looking up at the nest.

The hawk turned out to be the male haggard - Dad - and we watched him make at least five trips back and forth from the nest to nearby trees, each time bringing back a leafy twig or small branch which he then added to the nest.

Then we heard squawking, looked around and found The Squawker up on the Library ledge. We have nicknamed this eyass because she is one who makes the most noise still. The other two tend to hunt purposefully, silently and effectively, while this one still calls out to the haggards for a food delivery.
Last Sunday atop the crucifix on the Cathedral Basilica we saw The Squawker. She was quite pathetic up there on the highest point of the non-skyscraper buildings, and because it was so early (6:30 am) on Sunday the city was almost silent as her calls echoed eerily over quite a distance, and though I could barely see her, I could hear her clearly. No-one brought her any food, and she eventually flew away. She's the one that worries us a bit as the other two are becoming excellent hunters and seem very self-sufficient now.

John Blakeman shares this concern: "The vocalizing bird on the church is just typical of August. And yes, you should be concerned. The bird's got August to learn to hunt, or she's history. We see this out here in rural areas, too. Often, these are birds who had overly attentive parents in June and July, and they've merely gotten addicted to Mom and Pop providing food when they wail. The parents have now cut off the free food, but the little tyke still thinks that if she wails louder and longer, something will turn up. It won't. She will quickly get serious about capturing food, or starve."

After The Squawker left the ledge, we were suddenly inundated with eyasses flying back and forth across the Parkway trying to make landings on the nest. The haggard did not want to share and took off as soon as the eyass landed. Notice the red tail feathers with no bands.

It has been a challenge sometimes to sort out eyasses from haggards, and the tiercel (Dad) from the formel (Mom).This one had us stumped as there were no bands on the tail, but no real red feathers either. John Blakeman sent some helpful commentary about this picture: "The bird on the light pole is a haggard. Look at the eyes. Hags all have brown eyes, immatures (eyasses) have yellow eyes. This bird also has some pretty ragged and
varying feathers on the back. This bird is molting, which this year's eyasses don't do. The tail lacks horizontal
bands, which all immatures have. It's a bit dark, either from being wet or dirty, probably wet. The very dark ends of these tail feathers is very non-typical. But this is an adult. The bill (beak) looks a bit small, so I'm guessing (guessing!) that this is a tiercel."

Here's a recent picture of an eyass visiting the nest, and you can clearly see the yellow eyes.

And here you can see the horizontal bands across the tail.

The highlight of the morning was seeing one of the eyasses with a freshly caught squirrel up on the Library ledge on the corner of 20th Street. A moment after Kay took this picture, the eyass yanked the tail up and out of sight as if it were afraid we would come after it!

Later on, this eyass left the half-eaten squirrel on the ledge, and The Squawker moved in to clean up, so she did get some food, but not through her own hunting efforts.

On Saturday, August 8, Carolyn sent me the following report: "Today's action was terrific - similar in time and behavior to yesterday with the same players. I followed the squawks of one eyass from Art Museum to the roof of Parkway House [apartment building alongside the Parkway].

When I drove over to investigate, I entered the driveway into the recreation area that borders the ramp to the Vine Street Expressway. I found the bird with missing tail feather that we're pretty sure is Dad, big as life perched on a dead tree.

As I was taking pictures another eyass flew in (squawking) to challenge him for possession of the tree. Dad flew off. I could see the red tail feathers quite clearly.

Dad and at least one eyass showed up around the nest later on,
behaving much as they did yesterday (Friday). I did not see
both birds when I first looked at this picture. You can see the
reflection of the bottom bird in the window - two birds,
two shadows, one reflection - cool!


  1. Thanks for your intrepid reporting all of you. I am fascinated by John's comments and your hawkwatching. I don't think this parent is one of "our" family- both of Mom and Dad have very distinct tail feathers and markings that don't appear on this grown-up- probably an interloper!

    Love the picture of the eyass on the church cross all alone way up high.Hope he makes it.

    Thanks again, as always for keeping us informed.


  2. Because the adults are currently molting, their feathers are starting to look quite different from even a couple of weeks ago, so it's hard to know whether these are "our" haggards or not. But maybe there is an interloper around as John B. suggested a few posts ago.

  3. This is fascinating stuff!

    Is this level of activity typical around the nest site? Do the hawks know they're being watched?

    I have 2 cockatiels who are very cognizant of our interest in them, and act accordingly. They KNOW when we're talking about them, or when they're being paid attention to.

    I wonder if these birdies know?