Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hawks, storms, rain and water

August in Philadelphia means high heat, humidity and vicious thunderstorms.  This month is now close to being the wettest EVER in Philadelphia, a dramatic change from the near-drought conditions of June and early July. 

Our hawk family seems quite unperturbed by the severe rain and thunderstorms of this past week.  I worried about them in the midst of the high winds and lightning, and hoped that they had found shelter and could sleep.  John Blakeman shared some information about this in the first season of the Franklin nest:

"Where do the hawks sleep on windy, rainy nights?
When they sleep, they turn their heads around and tuck them into the fluffed-up feathers of the back.  A sleeping hawk looks morbidly headless.
On rainy, windy, or otherwise unfavorable nights red-tails typically fly into a large hardwood tree, perch on a horizontal limb that allows the toes to wrap around the branch and grip it. But on a cold, windy, rainy, winter’s night, it would seem hard to be able to sleep in such a position. 
Here’s how it’s done. Red-tails, like most other birds, have an interesting and useful foot locking mechanism used when sleeping. As the bird begins to nod off, there is a ratchet-like band of tissue that can be tightened around the inside of the leg. Once tightened, it sticks together somewhat like velcro, locking the bird’s grip on the branch. The hawk doesn't have to pay any attention to holding on during the night. The bird’s toes are physically locked around the branch, and normal winds cause no problems.
I’ve never encountered a sleeping red-tail in a gale. I think in those situations the bird must both lock its toes around the branch, and also stay awake and lean over into the wind. I don't know this, either, but I presume that the birds in these situations will attempt to park themselves in a somewhat protected position in the tree or woodlot.
What about heavy rains? This is exactly why red-tails spend so much of their time diligently preening their feathers. As with all birds, they have the
Kay Meng

oil gland on their rump. The lean over and strop their bill on this gland, pick up some feather oil, and then preen it into all the feathers on the body. When well-preened, water runs off a hawk’s back almost as well as water off a duck’s back. Still, in the heaviest down pour, the outer feathers can get soaked. But the fluffy, inner down feathers remain oiled and water repellent. After a summer rainstorm we often seen a sodden red-tail. Underneath, though, she’s warm and dry. Red-tails, like all birds, are like turtles. They carry their houses of feathers with them wherever they go."

Above is the formel (mom) drying off on one of the many spotlights that illuminate landmark Philadelphia buildings.

The rain also fills up the spots where the hawks like to bathe.  One of their favorites is the ledge that runs above the nest at the Franklin Institute.  Here's mom after a quick dip.

                             Kay Meng

                   Kay Meng


On Sunday, the tiercel (dad) decided to make good use of the morning sun and one of the fountains in front of the Art Museum.  You can just make him out under the falling water on the bottom ledge of the two-tiered fountain slightly to the right.

        Scott Kemper

Here's a closer view....

        Scott Kemper

He then hopped up into the higher bowl of the fountain...

        Scott Kemper

... and seemed to be enjoying the flow of water

        Joe Debold


         Joe Debold

The eyasses are always curious to explore whatever catches their eye whether on land or....in a puddle! Earlier this month after a rainstorm, one of the eyasses waded into this puddle at the ball field, and started to drag out an old t-shirt.

        Joe Debold

When he landed it, he seemed a bit at a loss of what to do next!

        Joe Debold

We thought he was going to go at it again...

        Joe Debold


... but perhaps sensing we were in silent hysterics at the antics - an OMG moment, to be sure! - he reclaimed his dignity with a quick drink....

        Joe Debold
... and then stomped off through the puddle, an eyass on a mission...

        Joe Debold

... to inspect the next curiosity.

                Joe Debold

It reached down with its beak to grab at something in the water...

        Kay Meng

...  a sycamore leaf!

        Kay Meng

By this time, we were laughing out loud, and far from being scared, the eyass merely gazed at us in apparent disdain!

        Kay Meng

It is a continuing miracle how unconcerned these hawks are at our proximity.  They go about their business as if we are a familiar part of their landscape.  Earlier this month in the grounds of the Rodin Museum we had a ringside seat for another puddle episode.

The eyass headed toward the water, and seemed attracted by the sun-dried leaves.

        Joe Debold

It messed around with the leaves...

        Kay Meng

... then took several sips of the rainwater.

        Joe Debold


                 Joe Debold

        Joe Debold

                 Joe Debold

Next, a bath seemed in order...

        Kay Meng

        Joe Debold

... then off to inspect something interesting...

        Kay Meng

... which turned out to be a plastic cup.

        Joe Debold

We then enjoyed the pretty reflection.
        Joe Debold


And now a shameless request for your vote for the Hawkwatch blog in the Most Valuable Blogger contest!  The blog has been named a finalist, and fans can vote EVERY DAY until the contest closes on September 9.

http://philadelphia.blogger.cbslocal.com/most-valuable-blogger/blog/64-hawkwatch-at-the-franklin-institute

If we can win an award - $50 Amazon gift certificate - I plan to donate it to the Schuylkill Wildlife Rehab Center which is taking such good care of our injured eyass, #3.

Thanks for voting early and OFTEN!

13 comments:

  1. Nice post Della -and Joe, Kay and Scott for the great water shots. Good idea for the donation to SWRC- all the more reason to vote early and often!
    Donna Caesar

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  2. Been voting every day. Thanks again and again for these close up pictures and minute details of the Hawks' continuing life along the BF Parkway. Fabulous stuff and
    so appreciated.

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  3. Della, thanks again for this blog. I am voting each day and encouraging friends to do so.

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  4. These pictures are so great!

    Am happily casting my vote, and will keep doing so.

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  5. Hey fellow hawk watchers ! We had a most exciting time on Sunday with the eyasses. We walked down to the Schuylkill river right behind the Art Museum. It was overflowing the banks and the winds were incredibly wild. Suddenly one of the eyasses came diving down right near us, missed its prey but then landed on a lightpost. You can tell its an eyass as they still have the striped , not red tail. I also notice they seem to be as large as the haggards now. Anyway, this one flew back up and for the next hour the 2 eyasses could be seen soaring around the area. The wind had to be coming in at least 25-30 miles per hour and the eyasses seemed to be having a heck of a good time catching the winds like they were surfing. They were also diving at each other. We though at first that they were fighting but after watching for an hour, I swear I think they were just having fun, like 2 kittens jumping on each other. Several times they were right over head and you could hear them calling to each other. When they did it was in an adult voice, not the plaintive call of a hungry youngin. It was truly an amazing display some of which we caught on film. And I'm convinced they were having fun and trying to perfect their flying techniques. I'd be interested to see what John Blakeman thinks. Do they ever dive like that for sport or was it really aggresive ?

    Eileen Mathers
    Fairmount

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  6. ps Ive been voting often. Good luck !

    Eileen
    Fairmount

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  7. Can't be sure of the described flights. But they are of no concern. Certainly not "aggressive." Mostly, the flights had to reflect the maturity the fledglings are attaining. They can now fly with almost the same alacrity of the haggards. They are still learning to hunt and kill with success, but using those big wings in the wind is no longer problematic.

    And someone mentioned the size of the immatures. In fact, they are larger than the haggards (but not heavier). Immature RTs have tail feathers about an inch or more longer than the haggards, and the flight primary feathers can be a half-inch or so longer than with adults. This makes the young birds look larger than their parents -- and they are. They don't have enough strength to fly really well, so they need a bit more wing and tail expanse to maneuver in the air, just as seen here.

    --John Blakeman

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  8. Eileen, did you see the two eyasses together on Sunday? That would be exciting as we've only seen one eyass recently, but cannot be sure if it's the same one, or if we are seeing both eyasses but only one at a time.

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  9. Any word on the how the hawks fared through Irene?

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  10. John and Della, thanks for responding.
    I didn't know you'd only been seeing one eyeass. I saw one up very close that day as it landed on a light fixture in the parking lot. Then when they were flying together they looked very similar and both had the striped, not red tail. Again, they were quite close and were flying right over us.
    As for the aggressivness, it looked more like playful aggression if that makes any sense. I've seen some real attacks up close here at the hospital (University of Penn: we've had a red tail nest here for years). There is a falcon that comes around occasionally and a few times I saw a third mature red tail fighting with, I presumed the tiercel. That Sunday we had just gotten back from the beach where the surf was very wild from Irene. The winds Sunday were extremely wild and the eyasses looked like kids playing in the surf. One would occasionally take a dive at the other, lots of singing and just generally more playful looking flying than I've ever seen before. It made our spirits soar just watching. It lasted for about an hour and all of it right over the Art Museum/Boathouse Row area.

    Eileen
    Fairmount

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  11. Today's postings on Facebook indicate the presence of three hawks flying around the art museum. One was the FI eyass, and there were two "interlopers." One was rather svelt, still had striped tail, but eyes were darker than our eyass; the other was bulkier, had dark eyas and its tail was a dull red; all chased around after one another, but the FI eyass seemed to distance itself from the other two while trying to hunt; all three went after the same prey on several occasions; Scottand Joe got pictures and I am sure they will submit some to Della for posting here

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  12. Correction....after viewing [ictures by Scott and Joe, it seems we were mistaken; we thought on Tuesday that the interlopers' eyes were dark, but in fact they arew gold just like our FI eyass' eyes.

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  13. Yes they are beautiful, but they are a problem in small dog neighborhoods. Several small 3LB DOGS have been taken by hawks and owner was only 10ft or less away. not rumor fact because I know them.

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