Monday, April 26, 2010

Let's hear it for the formel, formerly known as Dad and the tiercel, formerly known as Mom

And that title is not a misprint!

Last Friday afternoon, Kay and I were privileged to be able to visit the Boardroom at the Franklin Institute to see the hawks on their nest.

There is a long privacy screen across the alcove where the window is, with a small gap at each end through which one can look at the nest, or aim a camera lens. There is absolutely NO stepping in front of the screen allowed. We had a good view from either side, and Kay was able to photograph with no disturbance to the hawks.

As exciting as it was to see our hawks up close, that paled into comparison with what we discovered when we saw them side by side at our eye level.

All this time, we have been misidentifying the formel and the tiercel!

The bird we had always thought was the tiercel (dark chin and larger, darker chest streaks) was sitting on the nest when we arrived.

Then the bird we had always thought was the formel (light chin, and paler chest with delicate spotting like a necklace) arrived carrying prey, and immediately we could see that that bird was much smaller than the one sitting on the nest.

When we saw them
standing up side by side, it was clear that the white chinned one was definitely smaller, and was doing tiercel-type work: hunting and bringing prey to the nest, and the dark chinned one was much bigger and was doing formel-type work: sitting on the nest with the baby eyasses.

Though we were flabbergasted to think we had had them backwards all this time (much like discovering the earth was not flat!), the longer we watched, the clearer it became that the one who is doing all the sitting on the nest - Mom, the formel - is the dark chinned one.

How could we have made such a mistake?

I think because neither Kay nor I was involved with the hawks last year at this stage, we never saw the formel on the nest with the eyasses with the tiercel coming in with food. It was only when the eyasses had fledged and the Ustream camera could no longer see them, that we started to document their activities.

We rarely saw the haggards in proximity to each other, and when we did they were flying or were high up in trees or on ledges. At some point during the summer, we ascribed the darker coloring to the tiercel, and the lighter to the formel, but neither Kay nor I can recall why that was. On Friday, however, when we saw them side by side on the nest, only about four feet away from us, there was no mistaking who was who!

So I hope this discovery will help us settle into a clearer understanding of which bird we are watching. I am SO sorry to have caused such confusion!


  1. Thanks for your hard work. The above picture is so tender. The info you are supplying is much needed. I hope Kay will release a book. I like the book Falconry by G. Blaine which explains why we are all so fond of hawks. We really don't know, it's just "something" in some of us. J. Woods aka colibri57.

  2. Thanks for your devotion to this blog. I check it twice a day and love every bit of it, Kay's photos are priceless and give us a much clearer and beautiful view of these magnificent hawks.Don't feel badly about the mis-ID. It gave us countless hours of speculation and conversation. What else do we have to do than watch and talk about our hawks. Catzee

  3. As in Pale Male of Central Park

  4. LOVE your website. Please continue with the detailed updates. Cathy

  5. Thank you for your dedication, honesty and clarity. We all benefit!

  6. Last year, my heart would stop watching them fight and watching one of them lay there motionless while the others stand right on top of the other. Now I just watch and's not as brutal as it looks...well..maybe it is..but they survive it:)

  7. Sunny, There was a question put out this morning about "isn't an egg one cell?" I thought so at the beginning but looking thru my old Zoology book that is and isn't correct because it divides during mitosis. Another question for Mr. Blakeman, maybe. I am amazed at how much interest these hawks are generating scientifically. J. Woods aka colibri57