Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hawks and Fireworks on the Fourth of July

Philadelphia is known for its massive Fourth of July fireworks display over the Ben Franklin Parkway. Second year hawk watchers will remember our concern last year for how the eyasses would react to the huge explosions and light bursts.

You can see the Civil War monuments - favorite breakfast spot for food drops - at the bottom of the Parkway, then the trees in which the eyasses spend much of their time lining the roadway up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Last year, John Blakeman sent us these reassuring words which are equally timely for this year:

"Fireworks? For anyone concerned about this, just remember the worst, scariest thunderstorm you encountered as a little kid. I used to curl up scared under my blankets, even on hot summer nights, trying not to see the lightning directly. But the thunder was undiminished. Very scary.

But red-tails have been enduring powerful thunderstorms for millennia. And they can't crawl under a blanket, rock, or anything else. They are locked with their feet secured around a branch high up in a tree, pretty close to an actual lightning strike.

And don't doubt that the eyasses will be a bit scared, just as we all were as little kids in lightning storms. But after a few bursts of fireworks, the hawks will realize that all of this is happening way up there in the air, and they are safe in their tree or on the roof they are perched on. This will just be a thunderstorm with a different form of lightning and thunder. It should cause them no concern.

Fireworks are not significant threats to red-tails. Real lightning storms can be, as they decidedly were for a bald eagle's aerie a few years ago here in Ohio. A family of about-to-fledge eaglets were spending another night on a big bald eagle's nest high in a tree. But a thunderstorm approached and a bolt of lightning struck the nest tree. The mass of nest sticks was instantly incinerated, killing the eaglets. The nest burned for a time up in the tree, until it collapsed to the ground in a both wet and fiery cascade.

As the actual site of American Independence, Philadelphians should take special pleasure in the local Fourth of July celebrations.

Our red-tails, will, too. I think the eyasses will take special delight in watching the fireworks. The colors and movements, even the sounds, should intrigue them, just as the colors, movements, and sounds of their potential prey do. Right now, they are learning about these environmental factors, with an instinctive interest.

If two of the eyasses are perched together, one might be saying to the other, "Did you see that one? Just as I was imagining I could grab it, it faded away. Let's see some more of this! This sure is better than those dead pigeons Mom and Pop brought us before we could fly."

--John Blakeman

For those of you less familiar with our hawks' territory in Philadelphia, both of these images show the Benjamin Franklin Parkway stretching up to the Philadelphia Art Museum. The two white vertical columns at the bottom are the Civil War monuments on which the hawks regularly perch. They also hunt and perch in the avenues of trees on either side of the Parkway. In the image above, you can see the Free Library with its pillars on the right. The Franklin Institute is the large building across the Parkway on the left. Front and center is the beautiful Swann Fountain in the middle of Logan Circle.

Even this Brit has to admit that Philadelphia on the Fourth of July is a beautiful sight!


1 comment:

  1. I am very relieved to read this as this exact question occurred to me. Thanks so much.