Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday morning at the nest

The Ustream camera is now rolling at the Franklin Institute and we can watch all the action at the nest.

Here is the formel at 9:30 AM on Friday rearranging some newspaper that arrived earlier.

The grid at the bottom of the screen is a reflection from inside the window.

Then the tiercel arrived with a large stick which he laid across the newspaper.

He then tweaked the stick and the newspaper until all was to his liking.

One way to tell the difference between the two birds is to look for the slightly lighter white stippling or streaking on the tiercel's head

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The camera is ON!!!

The camera at the Franklin Institute has been activated..... and off we go for another magical spring with the Franklin hawks.

         Thank you, Franklin Institute.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine gifts and romance - hawk-style!

Despite the layers of snow and ice still covering the streets of Philadelphia, the lengthening days are triggering the nesting instincts of the Franklin hawks.  In the early morning before Valentine's Day, Kay, Caroline and I made a quick trip to the nest, and saw that the hawks were definitely "in the mood."

Kay has a new camera lens - about 3 feet long! - so this was a great opportunity to put it to the test.

At 7:30 AM, both haggards were perched side by side in a tree across the street about 50 yards from the nest.  The tiercel (dad) made two flights in quick succession to the nest, each time carrying a stick. 


When he landed at the nest, he would stay for about a minute arranging his stick....


.... and then fly swiftly right back to his lady-love.


When he returned from his second delivery of a stick, he landed right beside the formel (mom) and immediately jumped on top of her and they copulated.  No romantic build-up with these two!


One of the two emitted a loud screech or two. Then they sat side by side again for a couple of minutes.

He made another trip to the nest with a longer stick....

....then flew back to the same tree, but landed in a higher branch from the formel.  He hopped around from branch to branch, almost as if he were looking for an even better stick.  The formel never moved from where she had been sitting when we first arrived.

The tiercel flew for the fourth time to the nest with a stick.  

When he returned to the formel, he once again jumped on her and they copulated for a second time with more screeching.  

All this took place in the span of 25 minutes.  Timing is everything.....

Both birds sat in the tree for another few minutes then each flew off in slightly different directions, and perched separately in a couple of other trees. 

Does he have a slightly smug "mission accomplished" expression?

The last we saw of them was both flying low behind some buildings, then they flew farther and farther away till we lost sight of them.

I sent an account of the morning's activity to John Blakeman, and as always, he was generous in sharing his observations:

"Yes, the 2011 nesting season has begun in earnest. All of what you saw indicates this. The frequent copulations (not, properly, "matings") indicate that the lengthening days are affecting the birds' endocrine systems. Breeding hormones are flowing copiously. The tiercel is acting in response to these, including the bringing to the nest of the sticks (and later, leaves and such, for lining), along with the frequent copulations. The formel will do a lot of sitting around, watching the hectic activities of the tiercel, thereby prompting eventual ovulation.
The snow and cold have absolutely nothing to do with any of this. It's all controlled by the increasing length of the days, nothing else.
All of this indicates that the pair remains fully bonded, and will replicate the previous years' successes (barring unforeseen calamities).
Spring is on its way, snow and cold (both in Philadelphia and northern Ohio) notwithstanding. Once again, a new Red-tail breeding season is wonderfully underway.
--John Blakeman

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hawk lunch - Philly style

Here's some fascinating video of an immature red-tail hawk who is clearly completely at home in the city, using the roof of a parked car as its lunch table!

We know it is an immature because its eyes are still golden, and its tail has the characteristic brown barred markings of an eyass instead of the red feathers of a mature adult.

Of course, we Franklin Institute hawk fans want to know if this is one of "ours" from this past spring, knowing how unconcerned they are with spectators close by.

John Blakeman had the following commentary:

"The bird is obviously an urban red-tail, that regards humans pretty much as my rural red-tails regard cows and sheep; with utter disregard. I've never seen this in a wild red-tail. But we are still learning about those urban red-tails.
Could this be an eyass from The Franklin Institute? Could be. But not so likely, inasmuch as immature red-tails at these latitudes (not so in the South) have profound migratory urges in the autumn. This bird may have hatched on an urban nest in the Boston or New York City areas.
I'm certain that it didn't hatch in a typical rural nest. No self-respecting red-tail of any age would allow humans to come so close.
And yes, this is exactly why urban red-tails need to be banded."
- John Blakeman