Friday, February 15, 2019

Mating season has begun for Tompkins Square red-tails, Christo and Amelia

Right on schedule, Tompkins Square red-tailed hawks, Christo and Amelia, have begun mating. A fellow hawk-watcher caught them in the act on February 13, and they were seen mating again on Valentine's Day. We can expect to see an increase in mating activity over the next three or four weeks, with egg-laying expected in mid to late March.





In the meantime, the hawks are making progress on their nest.

Nest progress

On Sunday, I caught Amelia chowing down on a pigeon. She's an impressively large hawk, but with a full crop, she appears even bigger.

Amelia chowing down on pigeon steak

As she ate, Christo snuck up behind her.

Christo flying towards Amelia

Amelia scarfed down the last bit of food just as he arrived.

Christo sneaks up behind Amelia

Christo sneaks up behind Amelia

Christo and Amelia

Dinner was gone, but no worries as Christo went off to hunt for himself by lamp light. We've seen him do this numerous times - using the park lights to hunt for rats as they come out at dusk.

Christo hunting by lamp light

On Tuesday, the hawks were plagued by an intruding immature red-tail, so Christo took after it, screaming.

Angry Christo chasing out an intruder

As nesting season progresses, the hawks will be less tolerant of other hawks in their territory, and will chase them out of the area. Today, I saw both Christo and Amelia knock a curious squirrel out of their nest, so no visitors are allowed.

Amelia and Christo

Below is a video of Amelia and Christo keeping watch over the park from one of their favorite perches on Avenue A.

All seems well in East Village hawkland, and I look forward to seeing more activity from this pair.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Hawks fighting in a cemetery and a winter snow squall in Tompkins Square

East Village red-tailed hawks, Christo and Amelia, have been busy working on their nest in Tompkins Square Park. Each day, they spend a few hours on nestorations, and I've been seeing them off to roost at sunset. For the last few days, Christo has been spending his nights inside the park within sight of the nest.

While our local pair have been carrying out domestic duties, I recently visited a few other hawks who have been wintering in the area.

This young red-tail has been hanging around the Lower East Side for the last several weeks and has a distinctive face, making it fairly easy to identify.

Red-tailed hawk on fire escape

In the photo below, there is blood on the hawk's belly feathers, likely from tucking its talon up against its body after handling prey.

Immature red-tail

On St Mark's Place, I found another young red-tail trying to grab birds that were hiding in the cornices of buildings. The hawk would perch on one side of the street, watching the birds go into cavities, then fly over to the cornice to reach over and try and pull them out with its talon. Although an interesting hunting technique, this hawk didn't have any success while I watched, and Christo eventually ruined the fun by chasing the young hawk away.

Sub-adult red-tail

I've had several sightings of a young Cooper's hawk around the 9th Precinct on 5th Street. I can't be sure it's the same hawk each time, but the resident flock of pigeons on that block has been attracting a lot of raptor attention.

Immature Cooper's hawk

On a visit to Brooklyn the other day, I spotted a young red-tail lurking in a cemetery.

Immature red-tail

Immature red-tail

The large trees in the cemetery house a lot of squirrels, and the hawk just happened to nab one right in front of me.

Immature red-tail dragging a squirrel

The hawk's lunch was soon interrupted by a second red-tail, and the two young hawks fought talon-to-talon high in a tree.

Red-tails fighting

I'm not really sure who is who, but I think the hawk on the left is the one who caught the squirrel.

Red-tails fighting

After driving the intruder out of the area, the first red-tail returned to its squirrel and seemed to gulp it down so quickly, entrails got wrapped around the hawk's head. In the photo below, you can see the red squirrelgetti stretching from the hawk's throat up the right side of its face and over the top of its head.

Red-tail gets entrails wrapped around head

The hawk continued eating, but was unable to dislodge the entrails from its face. Below, you can just barely see the red string under the hawk's right eye and over its cere.

Red-tail in cemetery

In flight, the red thread is clearly visible on the right side of the face, along the edge of the eye.

Immature red-tail

Immature red-tail

After the hawk took off and left its half-eaten squirrel behind, a blue jay flew down and nibbled at the remains.

Blue Jay eating a dead squirrel

Meanwhile, an adult Cooper's hawk perched nearby.

Cooper's hawk

On the coldest day of the winter so far, I visited Queens and came upon what looked like a young red-tail and squirrel just hanging out together under some bushes.  What?!? 

Immature red-tail and squirrel

A closer look reveals the remains of another squirrel on the ground in front of the hawk. The bold squirrel was harassing the hawk as it tried to eat its frozen prey.

As if that wasn't annoying enough, this young Cooper's hawk took a dive at the red-tail before perching in a nearby tree and watching the red-tail struggle with the rest of its meal.

Cooper's hawk

The temperature at the time was 13°F with a frigid wind.

Today was a balmy 65°F, which makes it hard to believe this is what Tompkins Square Park looked like just three days ago:

Monday, January 28, 2019

Christo and Amelia nest-building in Tompkins Square

It's that time of year when the city hawks start nesting and Amelia and Christo are right on schedule in Tompkins Square Park.

Amelia and Christo

Off to work!

Amelia and Christo

It appears they have chosen to build their nest in the same location as last year, which is in the top of the ginkgo tree on the east side of the park. Christo and Dora originally built that nest, but Amelia ended up raising her two chicks there after Dora was taken to rehab just as nesting season was starting last spring.

The Tompkins hawk nest has been in a different location each year since 2014, so I was curious to see if Christo and Amelia would choose another location, but they must have been happy with where it was previously.

Amelia in the nest on Friday:

Amelia in her nest

Amelia moving sticks around on Saturday:

Amelia works on the nest

Here is some video of Amelia arranging sticks on Friday. Despite being sunny, the day was so cold, my camera battery kept freezing, so I could only record a short clip.

The video below was taken on Saturday and shows Christo flying in to help Amelia move things around.

Amelia takes a break atop St Brigid's church:




This is Amelia on the Avenue A side of the park, atop St Nicholas of Myra church:


Bonus:  Amelia chows down on a pigeon head. Building a nest works up an appetite!

Amelia eats a pigeon head

If all goes well, the hawks will be constructing the nest for the next few weeks. In the past, eggs have been laid in mid-March, so until then, we can look forward to mating displays and bonding behavior.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Winter raptors in the East Village

I love this time of year when raptors are active and fairly easy to find in the neighborhood. The leaves are off the trees, enabling birds to be quickly spotted, but they can also be found by listening for their calls.

One recent afternoon, I was walking along busy Houston Street when I heard the loud calls of a Cooper's hawk. I followed the sound to a tree where I found an adult Cooper's perched and sounding off to an immature Cooper's who was in another tree across the street.

Cooper's hawk

In the video below, you can hear the calls of the immature hawk who is out of frame, and the answering calls made by this adult.

In this video, the adult Cooper's fluffs up its feathers, dramatically changing its shape to look bigger. I don't know what was prompting this behavior.  At the time, there was a Peregrine falcon perched a block away on the cross of Most Holy Redeemer church, but from their positions, it didn't seem like the hawks were reacting to its presence. It was fascinating to watch nonetheless.

On a different day, I came across a young red-tailed hawk perched on a fire escape on 2nd Avenue. I first saw it pulling pieces off a dead pigeon that was hanging from a cornice, then it flew across the street to this building and dug around in a window box before perching on the railing.

Immature red-tail

A second immature red-tail (I'm not sure how many are around at this time) has been seen in the area. It has a very stern expression, as you can see from the photos below. By contrast, the hawk in the above photo and video has facial markings that give it more of a baby face.

Immature red-tail

Immature red-tail

I'm most excited to report I've been seeing a Merlin fairly regularly along Avenue A.  These small falcons go after sparrows and starlings, of which there are many in the area.


I was lucky to catch this guy perched, as he flies so fast, he's gone in a flash.


Meanwhile, January 6 marked a milestone as it was the first time I've seen Amelia perch on the base of the dome of Most Holy Redeemer Church. 

Amelia on the dome of Most Holy Redeemer

This was a regular perch for Dora, but I hadn't seen Amelia go up there until this day. Christo has been perched in this spot recently, so the next milestone will be seeing Christo and Amelia there together.

Amelia on the dome of Most Holy Redeemer

One place the hawks do like to perch together is on the roof of the Christodora House. Be sure to look up at the building on Avenue B and 9th Street and see if you can spot the two sentinels keeping watch over their territory.

Christo & Amelia

When Christo is not on guard duty, he spends leisure time in Tompkins Square watching basketball. On Monday, just before sunset, I found him taking in a game by the handball courts (see video below).


Ok, Christo is actually hunting along the fence and not really into the basketball game, but he's obviously so tolerant of human activity, he feels comfortable being so close to them. And I appreciated that the kids didn't interfere with his business although they knew he was there. It was really nice to see everyone coexisting peacefully.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Mulchfest 2019 in Tompkins Square Park

I attended my tenth annual Mulchfest in Tompkins Square Park this last weekend and it did not disappoint!

A crisp 25°F and bright sunshine Saturday morning made for perfect wood-chipping conditions, and as usual, the smell of minced Christmas trees was heavenly.

Mulchfest 2019

Mulchfest 2019

The wood-chipper in action:

Mulchfest 2019

Dumping the mulch on the former site of beloved Bendy Tree:

Mulchfest 2019

Workers from the NYC Parks Department were on hand to distribute bags so people could take home fresh mulch, which can be used in yards, tree wells and as a potpourri.

Mulchfest 2019

Last year, the bags were decorated with the NYC Parks Department logo, but I like the design this year, which features a Christmas tree.

Mulchfest 2019

Enjoy the next few weeks in Tompkins Square as the scent of evergreens blankets the park.

See previous Mulchfest posts here.