Monday, May 31, 2010

Busy Sunday morning pics of the hawks

On a beautiful Sunday morning yesterday, a group of hawkaholics were rewarded by some great hawk action from all five of the Franklin hawks.

The morning's hawk watch started with the eyasses actively hopping and flapping back and forth from the nest to the ledge alongside.

Their wings grow stronger every day, and they are starting to get the feel of some lift from their flapping.

The eyasses entertained us with their antics for the first hour or so we were there, and various hawk fans stopped by to take a look at what has clearly become THE neighborhood attraction. It was fun to meet some of the blog readers - Doug and Andrea - with their daughters.

But there was no sign of the haggards till I finally spied Mom deep in her favorite tree alongside the Parkway. She was just hangin' out, with her back to the nest, paying us no attention and seemingly quite unconcerned about the many visitors walking around under the nest area.

Suddenly, the two eyasses out on the ledge were transfixed on something out there....

....which turned out to be the tiercel flying in to the top of a nearby lamp post with a particularly large and gory breakfast of fresh (very!) caught pigeon.

He was visibly panting with his beak open. Though he has become an expert at capturing pigeons, it is still quite a challenge for him - a larger and less maneuverable bird - to catch a nimble pigeon. He works hard all day to provide for his family.

When he had caught his breath, and we thought he was going to deliver breakfast, he surprised us by flying with the pigeon firmly gripped in his right talon past the nest and over to the top of one of the Civil War monuments at the end of the Ben Franklin Parkway.

He sat there for a few minutes, then decided it was time to deliver breakfast. This terrific shot from Kay shows the effort he is expending as he takes off with the weight of the pigeon in his talon.

He then flew swiftly to the nest....

... and as he was about to touch down, the eyasses all crouched down at the back of the nest to give him landing room.

Though the eyasses can now all feed themselves from food dropped off at the nest, the parents still occasionally feed them, and the tiercel set about tearing the pigeon into small pieces and feeding the eyasses.

At this point, the formel decided to get in on the action, flew over from her tree, and landed on the ledge as there was no room in the nest.

It was such a thrill to see all five hawks together! While the tiercel continued to busily feed the eyasses, the formel started to move toward the nest....

.... and then with a large flap, went airborne and landed right in the middle of breakfast!

The tiercel left almost immediately and flew along the front of the Franklin Institute.....

.... and landed on a ledge which slopes deeply back and down, and where rainwater collects.

I'm pretty certain he was looking to bathe - something that red-tails do frequently - and this is a spot where the haggards disappear dry and reappear wet, and then dry off in the sun (see post from August 20, 2009). However, he was out of luck as far as finding water, and took off across the Parkway.

Meanwhile, back at the nest, the formel was eating the remains of the pigeon, watched intently by her offspring.

There is now not much difference in size between the haggards and the eyasses.....

..... and they do not spend much time on the nest with the eyasses except to bring prey, and help a bit with feeding.

The formel soon headed back to her favorite tree.

One of the hawkaholics, the intrepid Carolyn Sutton, always checks the grassy area under the nest to see if anything interesting has dropped out of the nest. She was rewarded on Sunday by the remains of a meal, most likely rabbit.

Former biologist that she is, she wanted to check for sure. This was one of those times when I found myself thinking, "How did I get myself into this?" but in the interest of sharing with you the highs and lows of hawk watching, I leave you with the proof that this meal had indeed been a young rabbit.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Growing up so fast - latest pictures

Kay Meng and I were fortunate to be able to visit the Boardroom again, and Kay added to her collection of beautiful images of the eyasses. It was exactly a week since we were last there, and in the space of that week, just about the only remaining white fluff we could find on the eyasses was on their heads, and feathers were starting to poke through there too.

Here's a reminder from exactly one week ago to the day of all that fluff....

The eyasses were even more curious than last week about what we were up to, and stepped very close to the window glass to watch us.

At one point, Kay was changing lenses, and this one almost lost his balance in his desire to see what she was doing!

It was another very hot , humid day - high 80's, and in the above image you can see the other eyass trying to find some shade behind its sibling. We noticed them frequently panting with their beaks open.

While were there, one of the eyasses stayed out on the ledge beside the nest, and this picture shows how wide is. They have lots of room to move around without getting close to the edge, and plenty of room to slice! What a mess.

Here is a close-up of the eyass's tail (and the slices!), showing the distinctive banding that will mark it as a juvenile until it reaches full maturity at three to four years and the tail turns red. Check out those razor sharp talons too!

The wing feathers continue to grow in, and we saw them often stretching and flapping their wings. You can also see here how..... twiggy the nest is. The nest bowl itself is fairly smooth, but the rest of the nest is not very comfortable or easy to move about on. This eyass is standing right on the edge of the nest where the sticks have overflowed and made a bit of a ramp down to the ledge. Most of the time, the eyasses clamber down this stick-ramp, but they will soon be hop-flapping to the ledge, and then almost flying.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hot hawks!

On a very hot, humid morning here in Philadelphia, the nest suddenly was empty when all three eyasses hopped onto the ledge.

It won't be long now till they fledge, and the empty nest will be a common sight. The eyasses will continue to visit the nest to hang out at various times during the summer, and the parents (haggards) will drop off food for them on the nest.

The temperature has already climbed into the 80's this morning, and this is how the eyasses looked at 8:45 AM as they tried to stay cool - all three heads pointing into the sliver of shade at the back of the nest.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Out on the ledge

Yesterday, the eyasses began to explore their world outside the nest. The first expedition onto the ledge beside the nest took place around Sunday noon. As you can see from the image below, there is considerable space alongside the nest box, and because of the window along the back and the wall at the side, it is much safer than if they were wandering out onto a tree branch alongside a more conventionally sited nest.

This is the view from the outside camera looking down onto the ledge which is as wide as the nest, and provides a good venue for practicing hop/flaps in and out of the nest.

And here's how it looks from inside the Boardroom.

Here are last year's eyasses just before they fledged, when they were regularly leaving the nest for the ledge. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to visit the nest, it all looks much safer than when they suddenly disappear stage left on the Ustream feed!

The ground immediately under the nest is a grassy area protected from the sidewalk by a low wall. The sidewalk is alongside Winter Street, a relatively low-traffic street lined with trees in which the eyasses last year would perch, once they had fledged.

With the exception of the premature flight and subsequent rescue of Miss Piggy (see June 6, 2009 postings), the eyasses flew strongly right from the start, and had no difficulty reaching the flat roof of the Franklin Institute, the trees alongside the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and the roof areas of the Free Library on the other side of the BF Parkway.

These first forays onto the ledge by the eyasses are exciting steps in their development.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Latest pictures from the nest

On Thursday, Kay and I were fortunate enough to visit the Boardroom at the Franklin Institute for a photo session.

It is an extraordinary, almost spiritual experience to gaze into an eyass's eyes and have that gaze returned intently with no fear.

The eyasses are intensely curious about everything in their environment. Every time Kay raised her camera, they craned forward, tipping their heads from side to side, watching us. There was absolutely no fear or nervousness from them. They were interested in and watching us the whole time.

Their eyes are HUGE!

And each time we changed position, or someone walked by the privacy screen, an eyass would step closer to peer at what was happening.

Their wings are also huge! When they flap it is astonishing how big and grown up they look.

It is really starting to get crowded in the nest and can only be a matter of a day or two before someone ventures out onto the ledge.

As the tiercel came in to land with a freshly caught bird in his talons, the eyasses crouched down at the back of the nest to give him room.

He feeds them conscientiously even though the eyasses are now pretty much able to feed themselves from the food brought to the nest.

The eyasses' feathers are coming in all over their bodies replacing the baby fluff, and you can begin to see the chestnut feathering on their chests. The eyass on the right has fewer feathers around its neck and back, and is probably the one from the third egg, a couple of days behind the other two.

A close-up of the feathers shows some of them still in the casings.

Their tail feathers are also growing in fast....

.... as well as those FEET!

We left the eyasses full of food and peacefully settling into sleep in their usual pile....

.... under the watchful care of the Franklin Institute.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Living on the edge - danger for the eyasses

The eyasses are maturing magnificently as their parents provide non-stop food service. However, they are still in danger of falling out of the nest and getting stranded before they are able to fly well enough to return to the nest, as John Blakeman describes below.

Fortunately, the Franklin Institute has the expertise of the Schuylkill Wildlife Rehabilitaion Clinic on standby should anything untoward happen as it did last June when one of the eyasses flew too soon. Check out the June 2009 postings to see how Rick Schubert rescued the eyass and returned her safely to the nest.

From John Blakeman:

"Those of us who watch red-tail eyasses are from time to time alarmed by a most unfortunate, but natural happenstance — something that I sure hope doesn’t happen at the Franklin Institute nest. Still, everyone should understand this phenomenon. It relates to my earlier posting on red-tail slicing, the unique and powerful ejection of fecal matter by both haggards and eyasses.
Even at the earliest age the little eyasses are able to lift their tails high and powerfully eject their slicings out over the edge of the nest. And discerning viewers noted how the little birds, from the earliest days, paid close attention to where they squirted their slicings. Eyasses seem to have a strong and early compulsion to try to make sure they are slicing out toward the edge of the nest, not in to it.

And as they begin to stand and walk around in the bowl of the nest, they make an effort to back up toward the edge before slicing. All of that keeps the slicings out of the nest proper, and helps maintain hygiene. The little birds become naturally potty trained almost from the start.

But, from time to time, a price is paid for these hygienic measures. Sadly, an eyass will get too close to the edge of the nest, and while slicing will simply fall out, tumbling to the ground below. The eyass is almost never injured in its fall, as it’s not very heavy and the short feathers tend to lessen its impact.

The startled bird ends up standing on the ground somewhere beneath nest. Its fate is not assured. Soon, it will start calling for food, and the parents will instantly spot it and will bring food to it. But it’s vulnerable to all sorts of mammalian predators who can find the hapless bird on the ground at night. Unless it can climb into a bush or small tree, the eyass will become prey for another predator.

But usually the bird is able to clamber up into a bush or small tree, often to a good height, away from foxes, dogs, or coyotes. If so, it has a reasonable chance of being fed and eventually learning to fly and hunt.

I just got a call from a hawkwatching couple in California, where one of the two eyasses they were watching was discovered on the ground. I explained all of the above, that this infrequently happens with eyass red-tails, that they do sometimes fall out of the nest when they back up too close to the edge to slice. I advised them to leave the eyass on the ground, or to assist its attempts to climb into a bush or small tree, where the adults could feed it until it got strong enough to fly. These California red-tails are about two weeks older than the Franklin Institute eyasses, so the stranded hawk has a pretty good chance.

If an eyass falls out of the Franklin Institute nest, it would be best for someone to quickly throw a big towel over it on the ground and pick it up and put it in a big cardboard box. Take it inside, in the box, and put the box in a dark room. Then call one of the rehabbers, who will carefully place the eyass back in the nest. It would be a lot of commotion, but no harm will be done.

So, yes, eyasses do sometimes fall out of the nest. When this happens at an earlier age, as at the stage the Franklin eyasses are at right now, most fail to survive in the wild. Predators nail them, or they simply get cold in rains and fail to get enough food from the parents. If there are two remaining eyasses in the nest, parents tend to focus on them, not so much on the stranded bird on the ground.

Actually, there is a much reduced chance that a Franklin eyass will fall over the edge. In fact, there is only one edge of any concern. On one side of the nest, to the right, is a wall. On the back of the nest is the window through which we watch this spectacle. And on the left, out of direct view, is the window ledge upon which the nest sits. So our birds have, perhaps, only a quarter the normal (but low) chance of falling out of the nest."

– John Blakeman

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Growing so fast....

More wonderful pictures from Kay Meng of our hawk family this past weekend.

A face only a mother could love... along with thousands of hawkaholics!

Standing tall and surveying downtown Philly...

It's tiring having to keep eating squirrel, pigeon and rabbit...

Off goes the tireless tiercel in search of the next meal...

When the formel flies, we can see where that loose feather used to lie in her wing...

These two wonderful parents take a well-earned break in their favorite tree across the Ben Frankin Parkway but still in full view of the nest...