Monday, April 26, 2010

Superhawk - Dad of the Year!

Watching the nest this week has provided a number of "Viewer Discretion Advised" moments as the tiercel (Dad) brings increasingly large prey animals to feed the ravenous eyasses, and we see the hawks efficiently defur, defeather and shred the prey into eyass-sized mouthfuls.

The eyasses are fed till they can eat no more, and then they fall into food comas among the gruesome remains of their meals.

The eyasses are now getting so strong that one of them started to feed itself today in the disemboweled belly of a squirrel.

None of this would happen if not for the herculean efforts of the tiercel to provide food for his family. John Blakeman gives us this account of the extraordinary job Dad is doing:

"The tiercel is now in complete, full-time hunting mode. We are not likely to see him bringing any cursory twigs or leaves to the nest anymore. Now, for the next two or three weeks, it's crunch time for Dad. He's got to feed his rapidly-growing eyasses, all three of them, and his already full-sized formel (bigger than he). The tiercel is the lighter-colored bird on the left.

To do all of this, he will have to hunt with extreme agility, cunning, and success. He has to know were to park himself during his perch-hunting episodes so as to optimize his chances of seeing and capturing anything. He's not merely wandering around the Parkway neighborhood of Philadelphia hoping that something might turn up. Very much the opposite.

As I have mentioned before, red-tails are not intellectually gifted in any way, except one; their small brains are devoted to remembering where and when and how prey were seen and captured. The stories of how hawks so remarkably recall and often replicate prey captures from previous years are well known to falconers, who see this first hand. The stories are almost unbelievable, with hawks returning to previous kill sites after an absence of a year or longer and hunting --- successfully --- just as in the distant past.

Red-tails seem never to forget where, how, and when they've captured prey. The Franklin Institute tiercel has been killing animals there for at least two years, and as he does his daily circulation of his local hunting areas, he knows from experience where the prey animals can be found.

And he also knows the best way to capture these prey animals. He hunts and attacks rats one way, squirrels another, and he takes pigeons very differently from mammals.

From his provisioning of his family this week, he knows exactly what to do. Again, it's no longer time to be messing with sticks and leaves and other vegetation. Now, it must be only food --- for everybody. Until the formel can confidently head out and hunt for herself, leaving the eyasses safely and comfortably back at the nest (which won't be for at least two weeks), the tiercel has to feed five hawks, his entire family.

Remember, the tiercel is a bit smaller than the larger, more powerful formel. In the coming days, he's got his work cut out for himself. But he's a winner. He was a good provider last year for a family of five, and this year, with even more experience, he'll continue to be the family prey-winner (hawks don't eat bread).

In our wonderful camera views, we get to see only the formel and eyasses, with scattered appearances of the tiercel. In his visual absence, let's not forget that he's out keenly searching his selected landscapes for food for the family. He's a profound hunting and killing machine right now. Everything depends on the food he brings to the nest.

So far, he's a star.

As for the three eyasses, they are all very healthy and strong. Not a weak one in the clutch. By the end of the week, everyone will be amazed at the obvious growth that will be seen. From now on out, almost till fledging, the eyasses will grow at a phenomenal rate

--John Blakeman


  1. It's especially fun to watch the babies sleep among a carcass. One time..the mom was picking at a carcass right smack in the middle of 2 of her babies. I know Blakeman says there's a no kill zone around the slip of instinct. I was nervous for that part.

  2. This explanation helps a lot with my understanding of hawk habits. I had observed a particular hunting spot on an antenna tower out in Havertown (west of Philly) where a redtail was seen on a very consistent schedule in April & May of two consecutive years:

    Now it makes sense that this may have been a father hawk hunting to feed his mate and hatchlings, repeatedly returning to a successful spot to get the maximum food supply for all those hungry mouths.

    In other months, the hawk appearances were much less consistent.

  3. Wow, what a beautiful post that so wonderfully explains one of my favorite things about raptors, their habits and natural history. Thank you! I work on a barn owl project and have some owl cams going ( and so often people are worried: where's the male? You just NEVER see him - he's out hunting for as many as eight family members, or more, each night!

  4. This posting is typical of the excellent description of hawk behavior which you have so graciously been providing to us. Your thorough explanations are very clear and quite fascinating.
    I see hawks flying over Independence National Park frequently; now I will look at them differenty. Thank you so much for your devotion to your avid fans, the Hawkaholics.

  5. Want to thank you for your wonderful posts here on this blog. I am a faithful fan of Hawks now ~ follow the FI HawkCam, this blog and the facebook page. Whenever I see a Red Tail fly overhead I look at it a whole different way. Thank you so much !!

  6. Hello John and the enitre Hawkwatch Team! I just wanted to say THANK YOU all for the information, photos,webcams, summaries and education you all have provided. I have shared this with my entire family, especially those out of state, and they love it! I have always said I was a Hawk in a previous life, they have always been in my heart and soul. Having this venue to truly experience the daily life of a Hawk faimly is AMAZING. To me, you are all a gift from God, THANK YOU!