Friday, June 17, 2011

And then there was one....

 On Thursday, the rescued eyass remained quietly on the nest with no desire, seemingly, to venture out into the world again to join its siblings.

It sat, somewhat lethargically...

... watching the passing scene, showing little desire to flap and jump as its siblings did before they fledged.

Surprise!  One of the fledged eyasses arrived back at the nest.

It flapped vigorously as if to say, "Come on, here's what you do,"

... encouraging it to try.

The fledged eyass noticed some food scraps, and started to eat, all the while watched passively by #3.  This informal numbering is to keep track a bit of the fledging order.  The rescued eyass will be, hopefully, the third to fledge.

#3 then moved down onto the ledge...

... and watched its sibling eat.

The fledged eyass was still on the nest close to 5:00 PM today.

Mary Gamble Barrett captured the formel flying in with food for the unfledged eyass.

Hawkwatchers are starting to wonder if this eyass is OK.  John Blakeman shares this concern:

"[From the start] I was concerned by this eyass's off the nest escapades. Her lack of energy and activity on the ground before being rescued was not promising. The bird may have some sub-clinical or low-grade malady. She doesn't have her survival act together.  I hope that she matures and fledges, and flies and exists normally. But she's got one or two strikes against her already, I fear.

Should it transpire that this eyass fails to fledge properly, that it once again falls weakly to the ground, there will be a problem -- for humans. Inexperienced hawkwatchers fail to understand that 100% survival of progeny does not always happen. I've harped on the low annual survival rates of the fledglings in their first year in the sky [20%]. But eyasses also die on the nest, or just after fledging, as may happen with this eyass.

It will be a very difficult situation, where the bird will be rescued and taken to a hawk rehab center and nurtured to "health." But such birds have residual, systemic problems, the ones that caused the difficulties at the start. Merely feeding the bird does not usefully change things. The bird will eventually be released (if it can fly well enough), and then may soon become weak again. But there will be no parents to drop food. Game over, so badly.

Alternatively, the thought will be to release the bird back at the Franklin Institute.  Doubtless, the haggards would instantly "care" for the eyass, but its problems will not be caused by an absence of care or food. There is a probability that this bird is genetically or otherwise irretrievably deficient and is destined to die off the nest. I hope not, but this is a common, albeit sordid element of red-tail biology.

The Franklin hawk story is not entirely a Greek comedy. Sooner or later, there will be tragic elements (as there already are for the prey)."

--John Blakeman

                            *                 *                  *                  *                

On a happier note, the other two eyasses are doing magnificently, though their carelessly exuberant flight plans give hawkwatchers frequent anxiety attacks!

Yesterday, one of the eyasses decided to leave its perfectly safe rooftop and sail over to the fence alongside the six lane Vine Street expressway packed with rush hour traffic literally just feet below.

I felt slightly better when it nimbly turned around...

... then slightly worse when it seemed poised to fly down into the parking lot.  At the last moment, it angled up over Winter Street, and nonchalantly (but with visible pride in its landing skills!) settled onto a tree branch.

Yesterday morning and today, several of the incredibly talented hawkaholic photographers were at work beautifully documenting the hawks' progress - Mary Gamble Barrett, Joe Debold, George Lloyd, Kay Meng and Linda White - and have allowed me to post some of their images, many more of which can be found in their photo albums on the Franklin Hawkaholic Facebook page.

The ledges of the former school district building next to the Institute continue to be a favorite eating and launch pad for the eyasses.

This eyass is eating from a parental food drop, and is "mantling" its wings to warn off its sibling.  You can see fresh blood on those talons.

Both parents are in extremely close attendance.  Whenever you see an eyass, look around and you will eventually spot one of the haggards keeping watch.

The formel often perches on the absolute topmost branch of a nearby tree.  Huge as these birds seem, they are light in weight - she is barely bending these twigs

The tiercel is more a cliff than a tree guy, and he chooses the edges and ledges of the cliff-like buildings in this area...

... from which to keep watch over his offspring.

Do not for a moment be fooled into thinking this tiercel is a sweet, fluffy bird....

He is one of the top predators of all - a stone cold killer - as those bloodstained talons attest.  He and the formel are doing a fantastic job of keeping their always-hungry eyasses well fed.  They eat on any convenient flat surface, be it a car roof....

...or a stone ledge.

The eyasses are starting to develop their hunting skills.  Right now, their targets are pretty small - really small - bugs!

But you have to start somewhere....

.... and it takes a lot of concentration to catch a bug!

But these healthy young birds are quickly turning into regal hawks.  Let's keep fingers crossed that the third eyass will soon make a similar transition.


  1. Wonderful post, pictures,, dialogue and comments from J. Blakemam who says it like it is and doesn't pull any punches. This is nature. We have been allowed to witness it. Thanks to everyone. Janet Wlodek aka colibri57

  2. So enjoying the photos and narrative of our hawks.... Thank you all so very much!!

  3. Just a word about Mr. Blakemans comments: Wildlife rehab centers are not in the business of interfering with nature nor would they consider releasing a hawk into the wild who is not fit and ready to hunt and live a full life as nature intended. His comments suggested that a rehab center might release a hawk in sub-par health, and that all that rehab clinics do is feed the animal and make sure it can fly.This is not the case. Although some sick or injured animals need only basic supportive care to recover, many raptor clinics are full hospitals with expert vets and rehabilitators on hand to treat a hawk's health. Mr. Blakeman is correct that there may be some genetic deficiency present and true, rehabilitators cannot test for that. But he painted a very simplistic and negative picture of what wildlife rehabilitator would do with a hawk like eyass number 3. They would not simply 'feed it, and see if it can fly'.

    Second, Mr. Blakeman's comments seem to suggest that wildlife rehabilitators are interfering in nature, particularly in this situation. In fact, many wildlife rehabilitators believe that they are 'un-interfering', because most of the injuries and illnesses wildlife rehabbers treat are due to the animal world colliding with the human world's interference: birds crashing into windows, being killed by domestic cats, animals being hit by cars, poisoned, shot, etc. In this particular case, it is naive to think we are only watching 'nature'. This is the worst possible place for a Red Tail Hawk to grow up, over 25 lanes of heavy traffic. And they would not have done so, if the FI hadn't put up a box for them to build their nest in (when their original ledge nest building attempts failed). Who knows what other problems the hawks have or will encounter due to this environment.If there is a problem with this hawk, humans have contributed to it. And we have a duty to help fix it. The people charged with this responsibility are licensed wildlife rehabilitators.

    On the other hand, if the hawk cannot be rehabilitated, sometimes the best gift a wildlife rehabilitator can give to an animal is the right to euthanasia: if that animal will not live the full life it was intended to live then it may be best to give the animal the dignity of a quick, humane death than to prolong its life by any means when it will not be able to do the things it was born to do.

  4. Once again Blakeman shows his ignorance of what wildlife rehab entails. Rehab facilities do much more than just "feed" their intakes. While in rehab, birds are assessed AND TREATED for physical injuries, disease, etc., and are flight-conditioned and, if need be, taught to hunt so that they possess the survival skills they need once they're released back into the wild. Obviously, not all birds entering rehab will be released; nationwide, the average release rate for intakes of all species into wildlife rehab is about 50%. Still, those 50% who enter a rehab facility and are releasable have been given a second chance at life.

  5. I think Mr. Blakeman is on-target. I don't think he was implying that rehabbers just "sit and watch". I, for one, am fascinated and thankful for all you do. However, we must realize as JB said, that even nature can be cruel and I think he is merely preparing us (especially inexperienced hawk-watchers like me) for whatever may happen to the little eyeass #3.

  6. I read Mr. Blakeman's comments and never got the feeling he was dissing rehabbers. I think everyone needs to calm down and let the experts handle this situation. I have had positive experience with rehabbers and I also respect Mr. Blakeman's information. It is very inappropriate to start some sort of turf war, over this situation. We all want this eyeass to survive and get to live her/his full Hawk life, but attacking others, especially experts, for sharing their information is not helpful and very inappropriate.

  7. I, too, am also dismayed at the negative reaction to JB's comments. Right now, our little eyass is receiving the best possible care. I would bet that Mr. Blakeman would agree that this hawk is being given his best chance for survival, all the while insisting that it cannot be guaranteed. As others have said, we cannot always have dominion over Nature.

  8. As it happens, I am an advisor to 3 Ohio hawk rehabilitation facilities and know quite well what's involved. I have no difficulties with either rehabbers or their facilities. I merely take a biological or ecological view; that the only animals that should be rehabbed are those that will subsequently have a high chance of survival in the wild. To return genetically or physiologically deficient specimens back to the wild, where they will eventualy come to a bad end anyway, is in my view not ethically responsible or good biology. Like it or not, it's survival of the fittest in nature, and not all specimens are "fit." FI #3 may be one of those less fortunate. I've seen the difficulties and bad ends that come to young hawks raised by humans, then "released" (even after a hacking period). These poor birds haven't a chance of ever gaining their own territories and surviving on to breeding age. Hawks in the best health and conditioning have only about a 20% chance of making it through their first year. Others, who have had to spend time in captivity for a period of time in a reduced state have things stacked against them.

    --John Blakeman

  9. Thank you, John Blakeman, for your comments. I now realize that bioethics is an important part of the decisions which all biologists must make. It seems so obvious now! Thank you for helping me/us learn so much about the hawks.

  10. Mr. Blakeman, I have always respected you and the sharing of your expert information with us. I hope that the negativity of some of the comments will not keep you from further "educating" us about our special RTH family. Thank you so much!

  11. Thank you so much for the photos and narrative. The bug catching photos nearly had me snorting my coffee!