Wednesday, May 9, 2012

As The Nest Turns: a new tiercel in town

The last three days have been a whirlwind of Facebook postings, drama on the Hawkcam chat, pictures and videos uploaded and shared, and constant late-breaking news on the incredible story unfolding at the Franklin Institute nest and on the Ben Franklin Parkway as the new tiercel passes muster with Mom and is accepted onto the nest.

It all began early on Sunday morning, May 6, when Mom flew into the nest with a vole. 

       Scott Kemper

She stared intently back at another hawk, flying nearby.  Was this the same bird seen earlier in the week soaring with the formel above the Franklin Institute?

       Scott Kemper

The visiting hawk perched on top of the old School District Building, immediately adjacent to the Franklin Institute, and gazed down at the nest.
        Scott Kemper

The formel took off from the nest carrying the morning's food drop in her talons.  She landed on top of the nearby Civil War monument, a favorite perching and eating spot for all of the FI hawks over the past four years. 

       Scott Kemper

In the distance sat the other hawk.  It was a stare-off.

        Scott Kemper

Did she leave the nest to distract him from the eyasses?  Or was she trying to attract him with her charms, or at least her rat?  That she was not in attack mode made it clear that the visitor was male; no nesting formel would ever allow another female near the nest.

This image shows the proximity of the nest on the window ledge (lower left) to the monument on the right with Mom on top eyeing the tiny dot of the other hawk on the highest point of the far building.

       Scott Kemper

John Blakeman's Sunday take on the situation:

"There is no doubt, now, that the new tiercel is a floater [unpaired haggard], making tepid but clear bonding moves on the formel---and vice versa. There is no way that she'd allow such a bird to hang around so close to the nest or in her territory if she weren't assessing and making pair-bonding arrangements.  The new tiercel is filling, in a minute way thus far, the behavioral gap left by the dead tiercel. Just how far this will go remains to be seen, but this could get very interesting. Whether or not the new bird is able, willing, or allowed to take up real hunting and prey-providing duties for either the formel or the eyasses remains to be seen. If so, it'll be the first such pair-bonding during this stage of nesting I'm aware of.  New Red-tailed Hawk biology is being witnessed, I think."  

While the formel was away from the nest, someone inside the Board Room attempted to open the window to drop out the next rat.  The formel shot from the monument to the ledge like a bullet to defend her eyasses.

Scott Kemper

        Scott Kemper

 She puffed out her feathers in a terrifying way, and was clearly furious at the attempted incursion. 

        Scott Kemper

Each time the patient food dropper attempted to get the rat out on the ledge, she launched another attack.

        Scott Kemper

Eventually, the rat was dropped, and after glaring at it for while, she made her grab and took it over to the eyasses on the nest.

        Scott Kemper

The eyasses were sleepily unaware of the day's drama.  After she had eaten some of the rat, she took it away...

... and they were left to wake up properly, and explore a bit more of the nest.  They are reaching the gawky stage in their prodigious growth where strange body parts hang out at weird angles.

#3, though the youngest, often seems livelier and more alert than the others, craning its neck to see what's happening over the edge of the nest bowl.

 Their ET-alien faces now gaze out in dreamy wonder at what lies beyond the nest sticks.

        Scott Kemper
        Scott Kemper

 Monday, May 7 
The day started peacefully with Mom resting over the eyasses after breakfast.
When she left, she took the rat with her, leaving the eyasses to do some more exploring.  This one used its wings like crutches to climb up the side of the nest bowl...

... and peek over the edge.

Mom was unusually active - back and forth to the nest several times, sometimes bringing a small rodent...

... and then more greenery

 The eyasses were visibly tracking her as she flew in and out of the nest.

Little did we realize that they may also have been tracking the new tiercel - T2 - who had made serious inroads to full acceptance by the formel, and was allowed to bring his vole gift to the nest at 10:57 AM...

... closely supervised by the formel.

Both haggards were back on the nest at 1:18 PM.

John Blakeman's observations -  "The appearance of the new tiercel at and on the FI nest, along with the resident formel, with three eyasses, has heretofore never been seen to my knowledge---and I've been studying Red-tailed Hawks since the 1960s.  

The new bird has pair-bonded, mated (but not copulated, perhaps) with the resident formel. Few would have ever thought pair-bonding and mating would have been possible under these circumstances; that the formel would have in defense rejected any alluring incursions of a floating (unmated) haggard tiercel. But here, not so. The new tiercel is apparently hunting and may be providing food to the formel by caching or leaving it exposed on tree limbs or building ledges for her.  

Sooner or later, it's very likely he will bring food right to the nest, taking up all the functions of the deceased FI tiercel.  I watched the new bird's brief appearance around 1 pm today, and he clearly had only laudable intentions. This will be exciting to watch. 

Clearly, this new bird is the new resident tiercel and is now pair-bonded. Once again, there is a complete, mated pair of Red-tailed Hawks at The Franklin Institute."

Tuesday, May 8

Today, we got our first close-up view of T2, thanks to John Arnold's morning visit to the Parkway.  Like Dad, T2 has a lighter chin than Mom...

         John Arnold

... but his chest is noticeably more streaked.  It will be much harder to tell the difference between these haggards.

          John Arnold

There really are no words to describe the extraordinary nature of these developments, and the speed at which they have occurred.  T2 is making himself  quite at home at the Franklin Institute, eating his prey on one of the ledges, calmly watched from above by the formel on the nearby pediment.

          John Arnold

He understands how important it is always to bring a gift when he lands on the nest. Fresh green leaves seemed to be a good idea, and Mom is surveying the array.

His current modus operandi is that if some is good, more is better.  At one point today, the eyasses were completely buried under his leaves!

They eventually got out from under their green canopy...

 ... and it was time for more exploration.  Experienced nest watchers are now reaching for their valium and maalox as the eyasses crawl ever closer to the nest rim...

 ... and then start peering over.   They can probably see the rat out on the ledge.

 T2 had a couple of missteps today in his excitement.  He brought in a mouse, then ate it without sharing.  The next time he brought in a mouse, the formel took it and put her foot on it.  She fed it to the eyasses later in the afternoon.

He also flew out with this rat just as mom was about to feed.  Ooops.....

 All seemed to be forgiven, however, when he was allowed to feed one of the eyasses for the first time....

... and then the day's highlight to see both hawks feeding the eyasses.

Patricia Leary's comments on the Franklin Hawkaholic Facebook page capture the excitement we have felt all day watching this incredible drama unfold: 
"Wow, what a night! Mom just fed the babies and was sitting in the nest when T2 came along. He looked around the nest for a minute and then went to the ledge where he started to eat a mouse. I was a little miffed, I admit, but then HE TOOK THE REST OVER TO MOM AND GAVE IT TO HER! It was so cute! He's trying! I am going to give him a chance."

The link below is video taken by Grace Sharp Richmond of T2 and Mom feeding the eyasses.

A question that many hawk fans had today was whether T2 could possibly be one of the 2009 Franklin hawks, now three years old and reaching sexual maturity.   John Blakeman's take on that question: 

"The chances of this being a former FI fledgling are low, probably <10%, from normal mortality rates of Red-tails, and migration tendencies, which are to return to the general natal area, but within a 10 to 50 mile radius or more.

I'd really like to see a close-up of T2's eyes, to detect color. If there is a slight hint of lightness, not fully dark brown, then there is a chance this is a 2009 hatch. If there's a hint of lighter color in the upper part of the iris, it's a 3-yr old. But if  the eye is uniformly very dark brown, it could be '09 or earlier. 

 The chances of genetic problems in new eyasses would be greater, of course, if this were an FI hawk. But I don't foresee any real problems as the probabilities are rather low. 

T2's "familiarity" with the nest and Parkway territory, and his prompt incursion upon T1's death, indicate that the bird was surely a nearby "floater" - an unmated adult living in an adjacent or visible habitat, probably within 5 or 10 miles. These birds watch the activities of the resident haggards (adults), and are ready to come in and take on new duties. Finding good, prey-laden territories is a problem for unmated floaters.

-- John Blakeman

While the arrival and acceptance of T2 is an exciting development, it is also very poignant to see two hawks on the nest again, and to know that Dad has been so efficiently replaced.

As twilight fell this evening, Mom took up her customary position as sentinel on the edge of the nest, keeping watch over the sleeping eyasses.  She has done an extraordinary job over the past eleven days keeping them safe and healthy.  It's good that she no longer has to do this alone.


  1. Michelle, Colorado Springs, COMay 9, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    Lots of wonderful information today. Isn't it wonderful to watch all of this and be a part of the FI's Hawk history? As long as the 'babies' are doing great, go T2 to help Mom take care of the 'babies'. Thank you so much for all of the great info. :)

  2. This is such privilege to watch it all and learn so much, thanks to you and all the other marvelous FI Hawk watchers.


  3. Brilliant reporting! Thanks so much.

  4. Thanks for the tthorough explanation. I didn't know what a second adult was doing there when I happened to catch it on cam earlier.