Sunday, May 6, 2012

The first week without the tiercel

After Tuesday's devastating news of the death of dad, the tiercel, the final piece fell into place on Thursday when the Franklin Institute shared information from the Pennsylvania Game Commission that an officer had removed the remains of the tiercel on Saturday afternoon from the location on I-76 where the accident happened.

It is unsettlingly sad to think that by the time we started worrying about dad's absence on Saturday afternoon into the evening, he had already died several hours previously.  Yet, how amazing that days later, through the strength of the connections that bind our hawk community, we were able to put together the final moments of this tiercel's life.
The terrible beauty of nature sustains life alongside death, and two weeks after the first egg hatched, the formel is doing a superb job of raising her eyasses alone.

She has a little help from her friends at the Franklin Institute.  The food drops of white rats put out through the window onto the ledge are working really well...

... and have been increased from two to three per day as the eyasses' appetites grow as fast as their bodies.

Here is the journal of #3 - the youngest by two days - from dawn on Thursday to nightfall on Saturday.

Thursday, May 3
Sun-up on a damp, dreary morning, and I get shoved to the back as usual in the morning stampede for the rat mom brings us for breakfast.  But I have learned that if I wait till they get their crops filled, and then I start stretching up,  mom makes sure I get my fair share without getting bullied.

Every morning, it's like magic - there's another lovely rat out there, and mom doesn't have to head out so soon.  In fact, she's back to her routine of sitting on us for a bit after breakfast which was especially nice on this cold, damp morning.  The cleaning staff put the lights on in the board room every morning which makes for strange reflections on the window.

Phew, she's gone and we can stretch out a bit.

At some point every time we're asleep, mom drops stuff on us.  This morning it was leaves, then a bunch of white flowers.

Those flowers were quite itchy, and I had to wriggle around to get comfortable.  Look how long my legs are getting!

Friday, May 4
Mom guards us all through the night like a sentinel.

Then before we wake, one of those kind Franklin Institute folks puts our breakfast rat out on the ledge, and mom heads over to get it

 When she leaves, we start to wake up...

 .... and by the time she gets the rat over to us, we're ready to rock and roll!  I'm still at the back, of course, but I know I'm going to close that gap....just need to get me some more rat.

So, after a fine breakfast, we're all asleep and then BAM!... incoming oak leaves, and this time it feels like the whole oak tree.  All those hawkcam chat ladies who think our mom is so amazing should see what it feels like to have all this leaf stuff dropped on them when they're fast asleep.

 It took a while to flatten them out and get comfortable again, and just when I finally got back to sleep, mom bounced back in.  I just couldn't get woken up.

And by the time I started to get my act together, I was once again at the back of the rat line.

Wow, that was a particularly delicious meal, and we ate... and we ate... and we ate... and then fell into a full food coma.

At some point, mom flew back in and removed the rat carcass.  She often sits in a nearby tree with our leftovers and grabs a snack.  It started to get hotter and we spread out to stay cool.

I decided it was time to do a bit of exploring and found that I could get myself up the side of the nest bowl, and peek over the edge.  Whoa - I could see a rat over on the ledge!

Mom suddenly landed on the ledge right in front of me.  Was she getting that rat for us?

Yesssss - FINALLY, I'm at the front of the line!

When mom finished feeding us, she decided to stay in the nest with us for a bit, which was nice as she has had to be away so much since dad left.

Saturday, May 5

Today, two weeks ago, my siblings hatched.  So much has happened for us since then, but one thing we can now count on is a steady supply of white rats.  I wonder if the FI can get them in other colors?  Dad used to bring us brown ones.... but I guess they all taste the same.  After my successful foray to the front yesterday, I strategically placed myself in the front of the sleeping pile so I could get a running start for lunch.

Mom came in with more leaves, but fortunately not as big a clump as yesterday.

I narrowly missed having them dropped on me again.

 Mom soon noticed that room service had delivered our lunch...

... and strode over to the ledge to collect it.

We're getting pretty good at sitting up now. 

After we finished all we could possibly stuff in our crops, we crashed into another food coma, and mom rested for a while beside us.

Then she headed out, and we were alone for quite a long time this afternoon.   This was a two-rat sleep, and the hours passed peacefully.

 Just as it was starting to get dark, mom flew in...

... and took up her customary spot to keep watch over us throughout the night.  She is such a good mom.

*               *               *               *               *               *               *

FAQs for the Franklin Institute Nest
During the past few days on the Hawkcam chat, John Blakeman has answered many questions about the well-being of the eyasses, and what may lie ahead for the formel and her nest at the Franklin Institute.  These are most definitely Frequently Asked Questions these days, so I have edited the chat transcripts and condensed them for clarity and brevity

Food and feeding: 
•  The FI is making two drops a day.  Is that enough food?  [As of 5/5, the FI is doing three drops per day]
That's a good schedule; working out well. The FI is to be commended. This [dropped] food is the success factor, which the tiercel formerly supplied. Now, it's the FI. The FI will get the "Tiercel of the Year Award."

•  Are the eyasses getting enough food?
The FI eyasses have eaten well, today, and previously. Plenty of food has been provided; they are growing normally and big.

•  When mom flies off with a rat rather than feeding it to the eyasses, is it because she's hungry and feeding herself?
She knows exactly how to apportion the food. She won't eat until the eyasses have had enough, which they did, earlier in the day.  At this age, the eyasses don't have to be fed such frequent, small meals. They can (and will) take larger, less frequent ones. Their crops are larger now, and when full enough that they can't sit up, that's a clear sign, to us and the formel, that they are well fed, and that the formel can then take her meal. The only crucial factor here is food. Is enough being provided? Without a doubt, plenty.

•  Mom does not seem to be bringing as much food to the nest now.  Instead, she's looking for rats on the ledge. Hopefully she is still hunting to feed herself?
That’s good. We don't want her out, away much. But it's good for her to get out, flying. It maintains her flight muscles, which will be needed after the eyasses fledge, and she’s out keeping an eye on them.

•  Are they feeding themselves yet?
No, they are only picking up loose pieces. Real eating is when they tear off tidbits of flesh, which will be in two or three weeks from now.

•  Would it be good idea for the FI to throw some small rodents onto nest when eyasses start eating on their own?
No. The eyasses will learn to tear apart the rats OK on their own.

Safety at the nest:
•  Should we be worried about them crawling out to ledge too soon?
Forget the falling or crawling out of the nest problem. It's a human made-up one. Red-tails are programmed to stay in the nest.

• Are the eyasses in any danger of predators?
No predators here at all.  It's very safe on this nest. No mammals can or would climb up there, and no owls or falcons would get close without the formel sinking her talons in them.

•  Why is she is away for long periods – sometimes three hours at a time during the day? She often sits at edge of nest at night or early in morning before dawn.
When she is away [from the nest, she is] probably within straight visual sight of the nest. I'd expect her to spend the nights on the nest. In a few weeks, when eyasses are bigger, she may not.  She's a good mom.

• Why the green leaves? Are they a “Do not disturb” sign?  Camouflage? Insect repellent?
The reason for the green twigs is not known. Many used to think the greenery repelled feather bugs. But the greenery seldom touches the feathers. Not camouflage, either.
Smell nice? Not smell, either. Red-tails have virtually no sense of smell.
Decoration? Not decoration, either. Red-tails don't have that behavior.

Eyass development:
•  Will food drops now make it harder for her to teach the eyasses to hunt for themselves?
No. The eyasses will learn to hunt, no matter. When they fledge, they will be at only the slightest disadvantage with the absence of the tiercel haggard. The formel will remain active and fly around, showing them the hunting perches, etc. Most of that is learned innately by the eyasses anyway, merely by experience.

•  Will they lose out in any way not having as much of her presence on the nest?
The eyasses will not suffer in any way with the prolonged absence of the mother. They must merely hone neuromuscular reflexes and build strength. Those are done individually, without assistance from the haggards.

The future for the formel and her nest at the Franklin Institute:
• Do hawks mourn the loss [of their mate]?
No. They haven't the parts of the brain that can do that.

• What is the likelihood of this nest being used next year?
This nest has a high chance of reuse next season. The size and depth of the FI nest this year---from the lost tiercel's efforts---is superior, and the territory around the nest is superb, too. Lots to hunt. That's why there have been three eyasses [each year]--lots of food.

•  Will the female move to a new territory or is a male likely to join her in hers?
This formel (female) will stay here, pick up a new mate next fall (if not before) This formel is going nowhere. Life is good here.

•  What chance is there that another tiercel will come to this nest? People observed what might have been bonding activity --would that be possible?
Very small chance right now---but very high next fall or winter. Pair-bonding is generally from late November through January. Don't presume that a new tiercel next season would put a new nest elsewhere. Because this is an existing, used nest, the formel will want to use it. The chances of a new tiercel creating a new nest for the pair elsewhere are rather low. It could happen, of course, but this is the nest of preference and experience for the formel. The new tiercel should connect with it.

• Would she court another mate after laying [and hatching] eggs this year?
She just might, in a moderate way. At any rate, there should be a new tiercel here next season.

This picture, taken on Monday, April 30, by the Franklin Institute's Gene Mancini, shows the formel soaring over the nest area with an unknown red-tail.  Could this be next year's tiercel?


  1. Many thanks for all this information. You have answered
    all my questions and taught me more besides.
    Considering the tragic loss of Dad, this Hawk family are
    fortunate to have so many people looking out for them.

    Once again, can't thank you enough.

  2. You've done it again, Della! Between you and John Blakeman, you've entertained, informed, and eased a lot of worries. For the first time since dad went missing, I'm starting to feel hopeful about the future of "our" VERY special hawk family. We're all so blessed!

  3. Wow every question in the world of concern answered just like that! Thanks to Della and JB for getting the info out there.

  4. What an awesome update! Still so sad about Papa Hawk but grateful for the caring humans who are looking out for Mama and her babies.

  5. Michelle, Colorado Springs, COMay 6, 2012 at 5:56 PM

    It is so wonderful to hear that the family seems to be doing well since Dad is gone. Kudos to The Franklin Institute for helping Mom and 'the kids' in their time of need. Great update. Thanks! :)

  6. Della, this story is extraordinary and compelling. It is very moving without being sad. You are very creative. What a pleasure it is to read this blog.

  7. Wonderful account, so funny and touching. Thanks to John B for the information, which gives us much hope for next season as well as for the survival of the eyasses this season. I do have a quibble with the definite way the question about grief was answered. (Not sure whether those were John's exact words or an edit.) I think there is too much we do not know to make an assertion that hawks don't feel grief (or any other particular emotion). Many other animals do, why not hawks? It may come from a different place than any part of the brain that resembles ours, or our dog's.

  8. Great job on informing us all. Just wondering if anyone's keeping track of how much is FI dropping gifts and how much is formel 's hunting proceeds?

  9. Thank you so much for the info and reassurance. If JB has time to answer our non-ending questions, I would have one more: last year after Pip fledged the formel disappeared for a while, presumably to regenerate after getting her offspring launched. Bobby took over the main hunting training, etc. Will our formel have to do this job by herself? Does she weaken herself for the winter to come? Thanks again!