Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why does T2 keep taking the rats away?

While it has been thrilling to see how well the new tiercel - T2 - is adapting to his role as step-dad, hawkcam watchers have been frustrated that he keeps removing the white rats that are put out as food drops.

Typically, when the rat is put out the window onto the ledge, the formel grabs it and plops it down at the front of the nest, much to the excitement of the eyasses who now clearly recognize an imminent meal.

T2 almost immediately arrives on the nest, if he's not already there...

... grabs the rat with his talons, and flies to a nearby roof, ledge or monument where he starts eating the rat - usually the head and neck.  After 5-10 minutes, he returns the rat to the nest.

Sometimes he stays to feed the eyasses...

... but he often drops and runs, leaving the eyasses to figure out what to do next.

I asked John Blakeman what this behavior meant, and whether T2 was an opportunistic freeloader.  It turns out that T2 deserves credit rather than criticism.  John Blakeman also comments on the miraculous adaptation that T2 has made in feeding the eyasses:

"The biological mystery of T2's astonishing fulfillment of normal tiercel duties at the FI nest continues. It's progressing just as I might have written it in some fictional story about modern urban Red-tails.

But I don't write fiction. This is real biology, not of the imagination of some author.

Regarding T2's prompt removal of the rats. I don't see this as stealing of any sort; rather, it's the pro forma, ritualistic performance of instinctive tiercel behaviors. T2 sees the new rat on the ledge, accurately, as new prey that he must "capture," fly off with, and then - very importantly - prepare for the eyasses by decapitating or otherwise rendering the rat both completely "dead," and opened up for easy feeding to the eyasses, either by himself or the formel. 

The real astonishment, however, is T2's deliberate, effective, and frequent feeding of the eyasses.  Tiercel haggards at many nests do little of this, leaving most feedings to the formel. But T2 has taken up this duty with gusto and efficacy. He's ever more into the entire tiercel haggard role at the nest. 

There isn't much more a resident tiercel parent could do at this stage. The only question will be if T2 assists in defending the summer territory and guides (as best this can be done) the fledged eyasses into appropriate hunting areas. Will he, for example, drop captured prey so that the free-flying eyasses (fledglings) can then spot the prey and decide to hunt such prey for themselves? Right now, there is little doubt T2 will do all of this--and who knows what more.

T2 wins the Red-tailed Hawk Tiercel of the Year Award.

And The Franklin Institute, by the provision of both the nest cam and chat room, and the (formerly) essential provision of sustaining prey on the ledge, wins the Red-tailed Hawk Human Assistance and Appreciation Award.

--John Blakeman

Speaking of appreciation, Andria Ayer, Assistant Director of Annual Giving at The Franklin Institute, sent me this exciting information:

"I am pleased to share that we have received 125 gifts totaling $5,210 - the hawk fans are an exceptionally generous group and everyone at the Institute is deeply appreciative.

I also think it’s worth noting that gifts have been received from all across the country and even the world! As of today, people from 19 states (including Texas, Washington, California, Ohio, Oklahoma, Florida, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana) and Poland have made contributions for the hawks. The contributions range from “In memory of Dad/Tiercel/Papa Hawk” to “for continuing care and feeding of the eyasses” and “with thanks to The Franklin Institute for four years of sharing the hawkcam.” The emails and phone calls are always accompanied by stories of the amazing connections viewers have made with these hawks and fun stories of watching them over the years."

Here is the information previously posted about how to make a donation to the Franklin Institute:

"Please know that all contributions to the Institute’s Annual Fund in honor of the hawks, or in memory of the tiercel will be directed to the care and feeding of the hawks (as human intervention is deemed appropriate), maintenance of the hawkcam, and related activities and staff assistance. Any funds raised beyond the needs of the hawks will be channeled into ongoing science and technology education initiatives, which include environmental programs, online curriculum, community outreach, and much more.

To donate in support of the hawks, please visit this Annual Fund link and, when prompted, either write a note in the comment section regarding the intention of the gift, or select the in honor of/in memory of option. Donations can also be made by credit card over the phone by calling Andria Ayer at (215) 448-1339 or Daniel Chermak at (215) 448-1130, or by sending a check to The Franklin Institute, c/o Development Department, 222 North 20th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. If you are sending a check, please be sure to note in the memo section that the gift is intended to support the hawks.

All gifts to the Institute in support of the hawks will be recognized in a special section of the Institute’s 2012 Annual Report. Please note if you would prefer your gift to remain anonymous."   -- Andria Ayer


  1. Once again, most interesting information from John Blakeman. Suddenly T2's behavior makes complete sense.
    Makes me realize that to understand, one must try and "think like the animal" rather than just human behavior.
    Thanks as always, for all you share.

  2. Extremely informative! Thanks so much to you Della, and to John Blakeman for keeping us in the loop and assuaging our fears/complaints.

  3. And sunnydixie for RTH Friend of the Year award.