Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Does activity in the window bother the hawks?

As we know from watching the live camera feed of the hawks on their window ledge outside the Boardroom of the Franklin Institute, there are times when we can see reflections in the glass of activity in that Boardroom. Some viewers recently expressed concern that the proximity of people and their activity might stress or startle the hawks:

"Does anyone know if the hawk's view inside the Franklin Institute window is blocked? I've been concerned that all the activity in there--people with cell phone cameras and other photo equipment right next to the window will cause them to abandon the nest." "One of the most fundamental lessons that I have learned about bird watching is to be discreet, quiet and respectful...I have to wonder if cell phone flash or people viewing them through the window could become disturbing to these hawks."

Gene Mancini from the Franklin Institute who oversees the welfare of the hawks, responded, "The view into the Boardroom is not blocked. I can tell you from observation that the hawks show absolutely no signs of stress at the goings on in the Boardroom. They spend quite a bit of time watching the people as they convene or move about, and do not balk at someone walking right up to them.... initially we were very cautious, but the hawks clearly were looking in to see if there was any activity. I am not aware of anyone using a flash to take photos. And let me assure you, the Boardroom at the Franklin Institute is visited by the smallest of circles... everyone knows the rules. This is our second season with these birds, and one of the premier hawk experts in the nation says our pair is in spectacular shape."

John Blakeman adds this perspective:

These are seemingly legitimate concerns, that close-up views behind the window might disrupt normal nesting activities. I, too, last year pondered this.

But the record is very clear. The hawks pay virtually no attention to humans behind the window. And this relates to humans everywhere in the nesting area. After watching dozens of wild, rural red-tail nests, I still marvel at how this pair utterly disregards nearby humans. Just the other day I saw one of the haggards sitting on the edge of the nest, looking around. And right there on the corner below was a person crossing the street, heading right toward immediate nest area.

Had that occurred at wild or rural site (these birds really are "wild," utterly unconfined in any way, originating in the wild somewhere), the hawk would have been instantly off the nest. She would have screamed at the intruder, and leapt into the sky, circling in ever higher rings around the guy. His presence would surely have been disruptive, and the hawk would have responded with alarm.

In this case of the Franklin Institute hawk, the hawk paid no more attention to the pedestrian below than a rural hawk pays to a grazing deer or cow -- no concern whatsoever.

But would this accommodation then extend to gawking humans behind the window (and we all gawk when we get to see these birds so closely -- so lucky we are)? Very clearly the birds do accommodate, and this has occurred in other areas. I have reports from several people around the country, in urban areas, where red-tails have landed on building window perches and looked right into human living spaces with curiosity, not alarm. They sit there at length, watching both the humans inside and the landscapes on the outside. Clearly, the hawks understand that the humans inside are restrained by the window. To them, it seems to appear that the humans are strange animals that can walk around inside cliffside rocks. And they never come out of those rocks, either. The hawks on the nest show no concern whatsoever. They probably think we are really weird, trying to live inside rock cliffs.

Now if someone were to come up to the Franklin Institute window and start banging on it, flapping their arms ("Those humans have such weak wings,") the hawks might start to pay attention, probably with a mere look of incredulity. I would of course recommend, as I'm sure the Institute does, too, that no one press their noses or hands against the window pane.

This contrasts markedly with how the hawks respond when one of us raptor researchers climbs up a tree and tries to peer into a wild rural nest. Very different. The hawks will scream, and when close can actually attack. Usually, they do jump off the nest, but circle closely above, trying to divert us. Rural hawks also just don't accommodate people walking around the ground under their nests, either. But here, we must follow the leads of the resident Franklin Institute pair. They've got it all figured out.

Oh, and what about someone taking some flash photos through the window? Well, the flash has no more effect on the hawks than lightning. I've taken hundreds of close-up flash photos of my falconry and research hawks, always without any reaction or concerns by the birds. They are oblivious to it. It's not a concern at all.

--John Blakeman

1 comment:

  1. That was a great post! BTW we have been down on the parkway standing under the streetlight with the hawk above watching us: all around them people talking, people jogging, people pushing strollers, a football game nearby, loud car noises and they just sit and people watch.