I have had a series of setbacks to getting this blog post written. The latest has been a nasty cellulitis infection in my foot for which I was almost hospitalized as it was not responding to the first couple of antibiotics. Fortunately, the third one seems to be working, and though I'm still on crutches, the fever is gone, and I'm ready to type!
I had just completed the part about the Fourth of July and the heat wave when my foot blew up, so some of this will seem old news, but here's hoping I can get this finished before Mom and T2 start new nest activities!
Well, my excuse for another long delay between posts is a week's vacation in an internet-free zone, and then a computer meltdown when I arrived home that involved having to replace the hard drive, and then a breath-holding/finger-crossing process to restore the files. All is now well.
All is well too with the Franklin Institute hawk family. They made it unscathed through the ferocious fireworks and other Fourth of July activities on their Parkway. You can see the Civil War monuments - favorite breakfast spot for food drops - at the bottom of the Parkway, then the trees in which the eyasses spend much of their time lining the roadway up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
They have also weathered (sorry!) the extreme heatwave we've had here in Philadelphia for close to two weeks now, with temps in the 90's for twelve days straight. Even at sunrise, they are panting, with their wings drooped down and away from their bodies attempting to stay cool.
On these sweltering hot days, they stay for the most part in shaded areas. Here all three juveniles are lined up on the fence under a shady tree - two to the left, and one on the right.
The terminology changes from eyass (on the nest), and fledgling (off the nest but still being fed by parents), to juvenile or immature. For brevity's sake, I'll use juvie (less typing to try to get this done!).
As always, Mom and T2 are keeping an eye on them, either from close quarters - here are T2 and Mom bookended by two juvies...
... or from afar, often from the roofs of the Library or Family Court, or flag poles - anywhere that gives maximum visibility of what the youngsters are up to.
That tiny dot on the roof top is Mom watching the activity down below.
Mom tends to stay out of sight during heat waves. She eats early in the day...
... and then may do a food drop with any remains. T2 helps out with the food drops and continues to be an excellent provider for his new family.
Here he comes with a mouse clutched in his right talon.
The closest juvenile will grab it - no table manners with these kids - and mantle fiercely to ward off hungry siblings...
... then rip, tear, and eat as fast as possible.
Sometimes, T2 will lead the food-crying juvenile by flying past it rather than towards it. This juvie is sitting on a ledge on the Barnes Institute.
The Barnes Institute, the newest and most exciting attraction for visitors and locals alike on the Parkway, is also attracting the hawks. Almost as soon as the construction fencing came down, they started perching up on the roof.... that tiny brown dot on the roof line is a hawk!
It provides high perches from which food criers can launch their plaintive calls.
The spectacular sculpture - Barnes Totem - by Ellsworth Kelly...
... is just another fun spot for T2 to perch!
That is, until he felt the tiny spikes underfoot placed no doubt to discourage birds from perching.
The juveniles are no longer the gawky amateur fliers of a few weeks ago. Though they still cry out for food, they are now obsessed with hunting and catching their own prey.
They fly with deadly intent through the trees...
... from fences
... and pounce on anything that moves, no matter how slow-moving...
... or inedible.
A sibling watches admiringly as this juvie puts a death grip on the trash bag.
Literally, anything that catches their eye risks a swift death!
But increasingly, what catches their eye are the small rodents that will form the bulk of their diet. This year's juveniles have made their first kills far earlier than in the previous three years of the Franklin Institute nest. These young hawks are quite precocious.
In this series of images, you see two of them perched on a fence separating a parking area from the rough undergrowth along the edge of the Vine Street expressway. They are learning where the best hunting spots are, and are watching for the juicy voles and mice they crave.
As soon as the juvie spots a vole, it takes off...
... and makes a successful kill.
As an animal lover, it is hard to witness an animal's death, but when it is part of nature's cycle, and the animal is not dying in vain but to feed another one, then it is not so distressing. And when it means that these young hawks are demonstrating the skills vital for their survival, then it actually becomes something to celebrate.
There is nothing sadder than a young hawk screaming for food, unable to hunt, and slowly starving as the summer progresses. Fortunately, because of the superb parenting they have received from Mom and Dad, and now (hopefully) from Mom and T2, we have never witnessed such a disaster with the Franklin hawks. Of course, we never know what happens once they migrate from this area in the early fall.
But the 2012 youngsters definitely have figured out how to hunt. The second juvie on the fence also found a vole in the undergrowth.
They have also learned to catch rats at the "rat farm" across Vine Street from the Family Court.
A whole rat all to oneself is an excellent meal - almost too excellent! Could that crop be any fuller?
Some hawk fans wondered whether it were possible for a juvie this young (only four weeks off the nest) to catch a rat by itself. I forwarded some eyewitness comments and pictures to John Blakeman for his thoughts:
"There is no doubt that this immature Red-tail caught and killed the rat in question. Unlike squirrels, which have very tough hides, can bite severely, and maneuver with alacrity, rats are slow and easily killed. In June, fledglings are still figuring out the hunt and kill business; but by July they have begun to master it, starting with both rats and voles, as with this bird. She's learning how to survive.
July is the "really learn to hunt" month. Very few people actually get to watch Red-tails hunt and kill - it's an essential element of their existence. They are hunter-killers. Getting to observe how they accomplish kills is a remarkable experience; not of course, that any of us take delight in the sufferings of the prey they kill.
But watching eyasses being fed on a nest provides such an incomplete perspective of this great species. Watching them in the field, as they hunt, kill, and occupy their territories (and soon enough, begin to drift off in autumnal migration of the immatures) provides the complete picture. And how wonderful it is that dedicated people can do that along the Parkway in Philadelphia!"
* * * * *
Having witnessed now for four years the Franklin hawks learning to hunt, I am continually amazed at how little attention they pay to us humans, even when we are standing in the middle of their hunting grounds. In rural areas, it is almost impossible to get within a couple of hundred yards of a Red-tail without spooking it. These urban hawks have adapted so quickly to this relatively new environment filled with humans.
John Blakeman also had some interesting - and dry! - commentary on that aspect of the hawks:
"Red-tails in the immediate few millennia after the Ice Age ended (about 12-10 thousand years ago) colonized and adapted to almost every suitable habitat in the Nearctic, North America -- except for dense forest.
Today, the urban hawk is learning that 21st century humans pose virtually no danger, so the hunting of prey can go forward without regard to humans. To Red-tails in urban areas, humans are essentially on the same (rather low) plane as sheep, cows or deer are in wild, rural areas --- of no concern.
Close-by urban hawkwatchers can now properly assign themselves to the intellectual level of concern of cows or sheep."
* * * * *
As if the hawks heard John Blakeman's comments on how difficult it is to catch a squirrel, they seem determined to prove him wrong. Of course, along the Parkway there are squirrels practically begging to be caught.
The squirrel froze in place on the edge of the balcony when it saw the hawk land on the fence directly opposite.
Almost, immediately, reinforcements arrived....
... and the squirrel decided to make a run for it, but was not going to give up its pizza!
One of the hawks immediately swooped, but the squirrel reached relative safety just in time, still gripping its pizza.
It then dashed through the decorative brickwork behind the table, hotly pursued by the hawk. You can just make it out disappearing through the second hole on the left at ground level, with the hawk's wing on the right.
The squirrel raced on and found a more familiar environment in which to hide, and impressively, still had a firm grip on its pizza! And the hawk had a equally firm grip on that squirrel's whereabouts.
As the squirrel moved up the tree away from the hawk below, it suddenly stopped, transfixed by something above.
Once again, reinforcements had arrived quickly on the scene.
There followed a series of tactical maneuvers by both parties, neither quite sure how to reach the end game. Though the hawk edged ever closer to the squirrel, the squirrel kept its cool and its pizza.
It all ended with the hawks tiring of the stand-off, and flying off to hunt something more exciting, leaving the squirrel to enjoy its hard-earned pizza.
* * * * *
A joy and challenge of hawkstalking at this time of the year is locating the hawks in their ever-expanding territory. Often when you find one, another is right there beside, whether in a tree...
... on an ornate ledge...
... or a lamp pole at sunrise.
Hitting the jackpot for hawkstalkers is to see all three at once - always a thrilling moment - and also one of relief to be able to account for all three.
These young hawks are just so beautiful, and to see them in full feather and strength after their rough start is the biggest thrill of all. Our wonderful photographers have captured so many gorgeous images, often at ridiculously early hours of the morning when the hawks are most active.
Depending on the moment, the hawks appear regal...
Now, I'm going to stop typing, and get this published before any other misfortune lands on me! For those of you who do not use Facebook, I know it has been a long wait for news of the hawks, and I apologize. Thank you for your patience, and I hope the reports will be much more timely going forward.