Wednesday, March 29, 2017

This week's Christo and Dora adventures

In this week's Tompkins Square hawk adventures, we find Christo hunting rats by lamp light Friday evening.

Christo hunts by lamp light

Christo hunts by lamp light

Although Christo was most interested in rats, he couldn't resist going after a squirrel who taunted him from a nearby tree.  He lunged at it, missed, and consequently scared the rats away.  The squirrel then chased after Christo as he retreated to another tree.  As he flew past me, I heard him making his "annoyed" growl and also saw that he had a funky white feather hanging down the center of his tail.

Christo with a funky tail feather

Speaking of tails, I noticed on Saturday that Dora is missing two tail feathers.  The gap is clearly visible when she flies.

Dora is missing two tail feathers

Dora doesn't molt until late July, and I doubt two feathers could have been dislodged by moving around in the nest.  I suspect someone/thing pulled them out.  Maybe a squirrel, blue jay or other hawk.  I really don't know.

In other strange happenings, Christo has been taking food to the old nest in the ginkgo.  The hawks  have shown zero interest in that nest until recently and made no attempt to rebuild it, so I was surprised to see Christo using it as a kitchen table.  There's barely anything left of it.

Christo at the remains of his 2016 nest

While Dora spends most of her time brooding eggs, Christo goes on food runs.  On Saturday, he picked up a fresh rat from the bird bath area.

Christo catches a rat

Christo catches a rat

Christo catches a rat

Note the white tail feather had fallen out by this time.

Christo catches a rat

After taking the rat to a tree to prepare it, he flew it back towards Dora at the nest.

Christo with a rat

Christo took over brood duty while Dora went out to eat dinner.  When the hawks are down in the nest, they're almost impossible to see from below.  Curiosity got the better of this squirrel, who scampered out onto the branch and crawled right up the side of the nest.

A squirrel investigates hawk nest

Christo quickly sprang up, but was unable to leap out quick enough.

Christo rises up as squirrel retreats

Dora to the rescue!  She saw what was happening and zoomed in to chase off the squirrel.  It all happened so fast, I only barely captured the squirrel's tail along the branch on the far left.  Christo looks on from inside the nest.

Dora to the rescue

The squirrel escaped and nobody got hurt, this time.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Brooding time and troublesome neighbors

The Tompkins Square hawks are brooding now, and I think we can safely assume all eggs have been laid.  The Washington Square hawks laid their third egg on March 17, and the Tompkins Square hawks are usually a couple of days behind them.  I saw Christo and Dora mating on Saturday, so I took that to mean all their eggs had not been laid by that point.  I'm guessing the third (if there is a third) could have been laid Sunday or Monday.  This is all speculation on my part because no one can see into the nest to see what is actually there.

Christo and Dora have been making regular nest-switches and Christo has been industrious as ever.  He is the primary food provider and here he is with a mouse for Dora.

Christo with a mouse

When he's not hunting, there is always nest maintenance to be done.  Below, Christo peels bark from a maple tree.

Christo peels some bark for his nest

Christo peels some bark for his nest

Here he is flying a redwood branch back to the nest.  He has previously favored that tree for nesting material.

Christo with a stick

The hawks are also having to deal with troublesome neighbors (welcome to New York!).  Below, a squirrel confronts Christo as he plucks a pigeon.


Across the park, another squirrel watches as Dora eats lunch.

A squirrel observes Dora eating

On Saturday, there was a worrisome incident when a third raptor (I couldn't see what it was) caused both Christo and Dora to take off and leave the nest unattended.  A squirrel took advantage and crept up to the nest.  Dora quickly returned and tried to scare the squirrel away, but it wasn't afraid and taunted her from the middle of the tree.

In the photo below, you can see that Dora can't really maneuver between all the tiny branches to get at the squirrel. The squirrel is likely one of many who live in that tree and are very territorial.  I previously expressed my misgivings about this nest location, mostly because hawks and squirrels cannot live a few feet away from each other and not have problems.

Seconds from disaster

About a second after I took the above photo, Christo came zooming in from behind me as fast as a bullet.  He struck the squirrel and knocked it out of the tree.  The squirrel fell 50-60 feet to the ground where, fortunately, there was a thick layer of snow that cushioned the fall and the squirrel survived.

On Sunday, while Christo was brooding in the nest, a squirrel (I don't know if it was the same one from the day before) climbed right up the side of the nest and looked inside.  Christo exploded out of the nest, but he had been facing the other way, so had to twist around 180 degrees to chase after the squirrel.

Christo chases intruding squirrel from nest

If Christo had been facing the other way, I don't think the squirrel would have escaped.

Christo chases intruding squirrel from nest

Although they are prey for hawks, squirrels can also inflict injury.  They have razor sharp teeth and the Tompkins squirrels seem to have no fear and a whole lot of attitude.  I worry about them hurting the hawks as much as I worry about them being turned into lunch.  Last week, I was concerned about a mark on Dora's face which, if it was an injury (we were never able to figure it out), could have come from an encounter with a squirrel.

She seems to be fine now.  Below are some photos of her from Sunday.

Dora leaves the nest




In other hawk news, I was heartbroken today to learn of the passing of Ezra, the male red-tailed hawk who was featured on Cornell's live hawk cam along with is mate, Big Red.  Ezra and Big Red were the first hawks I ever watched on camera and they really got me interested in red-tails and other raptors.  As they were the first pair I followed, they will always be special to me and I really appreciate everyone at Cornell for sharing them with the world.  I learned so much from them and they have helped me to better understand and appreciate Christo and Dora.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The frenzy after the storm

Despite the dismal weather this week, it's been a busy one for hawks.  On Tuesday, we believe Dora laid at least one egg in the new nest in Tompkins Square.  Since then, she and Christo have been making regular nest-exchanges.  That same day, there was the big winter storm that was mostly blowing sleet and a pretty crummy day to be outside.  Dora looked wet and miserable, as did I.  Yesterday (Wednesday), the temp was still below freezing, and the wind made it feel worse.

But I was worried about Dora, so I ventured out at lunch time to check on her.  When I arrived at the park, a rat ran over my foot and Christo swooped over my head.

Christo on a dreary day

He ended up catching a different rat and took it to a tree near the Temperance Fountain where he called for Dora to come eat.  She responded and flew out of the nest just as I reached the area.


I tried to get another look at the mark on her left cheek.  As I can't get very close to her, it's hard to tell whether she has an injury or if it's just a patch of matted feathers.  Her eyes looked fine and she hungrily ate the rat, so her behavior seemed normal.

Dora with a mouse

While Dora ate lunch, Christo suddenly appeared with a second rat.  In the photo below, he's flying in on the right.

Christo flies in a mouse as Dora eats one

Dora had a two-course meal!

Dora with a 2-course meal

While Dora was busy feasting, Christo took off and chased this young Cooper's hawk that flew right over the center of the park.

Intruding Cooper's hawk

As I stood in one spot by the fountain, I also saw a crow fly right over the hawk nest, then a kestrel stirred up some pigeons along the St Mark's entrance to the park, and then a third red-tail soared over Avenue A.  Christo chased the Cooper's and the red-tail west towards First Avenue.

He quickly returned and wasted no time returning to hunting.  I moved closer to Avenue A when a second rat ran over my foot.  To my surprise/terror, Christo went after it!  The photo below is the last I saw of him before he got too close and he gouged my eyes out my camera lost focus.

Christo going for a rat at my feet

He missed the rat and perched just a few feet away.


Less than a minute later, he made a second attempt and dove right into the snow.


He caught a rat up against a fence.  A bench was blocking my view, so I only caught him as he carried the rat away.  I'm not sure if it was the one that ran over my foot or not.

Christo catches a rat in the snow

Christo flew the rat towards 7th Street.

Christo flies a rat past a fake goose in a window

He then delivered the rat back to Dora, who was already full after eating two rodents just minutes before.  He ate some himself, stashed the rest, then went and tore a huge chunk of bark off a tree near the ping pong table.  I couldn't believe how active he was - by contrast, I was absolutely frozen and barely able to move.

Christo took the bark to the nest, where Dora was brooding.  I guess she wasn't having any of it because she kicked him out and he had to fly around the park with that giant piece of wood.  Eventually, he convinced her to take a break from the nest, so she took off and he settled in with his new decorative item.

Christo flying with a piece of bark

As it's impossible to see the hawks when they're sitting down in the nest, I decided to go see what Dora was up to.  To my dismay, I found her tap dancing on some bird spikes on a fire escape on Avenue A.  Aaa!

Dora walking on bird spikes

Her feet were actually gripping the spikes.

Dora sitting on bird spikes

Zoomed in:

More to worry about!

This building has had a problem with pigeons for years, so the spikes were put up to deter them.  The pigeons now congregate on the corner of the building where there are no spikes.  I had to wonder why Dora chose to perch on that particular fire escape and not another one that isn't covered in danger.  I think it may be that she has a clear line of sight to the nest from this one spot.  If she were to perch on a neighboring building, trees would block her vision.

With this in mind, I then wondered why the hawks didn't decide to reuse their nest from last year on the east side of the park.  At that location, the hawks could perch on the cross at St Brigid's and have a clear view of their nest.  It seemed perfect.  Why they would abandon that setup and go for the current one is a mystery.

Anyway, Dora spent an hour behind bars on this air-conditioner looking back towards Christo and her nest.

Dora behind bars

This evening, I just happened to come across this immature red-tail at the City Marble Cemetery on 2nd Street.  I think this might be the same red-tail Christo chased away yesterday.  Normally, this hawk would have migrated by now, but for what ever reason, s/he is still hanging around the area.

Immature red-tail

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The frenzy before the storm

Backtracking a bit, below are some photos of Christo and Dora taken this last Sunday.  After weeks of difficulty tracking them because they were spending so much time out of the park, I was finally able to spend a full afternoon with both of them and they were very active.

Christo appeared first, looking rather sinister atop the men's restroom.


One way to tell him apart from Dora is the pattern of rusty brown color on his legs.  Dora has solid cream-colored legs. 


Even as Christo dives, you can still see the brown barring above his bare leg where it meets his tail.


He also has a prominent white throat, whereas Dora has a mostly brown throat.


Christo took a break from hunting to go meet Dora atop a fire escape on Avenue A...

Christo and Dora mating

...and commenced mating.

Christo and Dora mating

Soon after, he caught her a mouse, which he took to a tree, only to be confronted by a squirrel.

Christo and a squirrel

Dora answered Christo's dinnertime call and went to retrieve her meal.  Note her solidly colored legs and dark throat.


It was at this time that I noticed a reddish-brown rough patch on Dora's left cheek, extending from her eye to the corner of her mouth. 

Dora with a mark on her face

I wasn't sure if it was just mussed up feathers or blood.  Other hawk-watchers also thought the mark looked red, so I became very concerned.  Dora has been doing battle with so many other raptors lately, it would be easy for her to get hurt.  Then again, the blood could have come from eating a messy meal.  I confirmed the mark was there on Saturday and is still there today (Wednesday), but she has been behaving normally and eating a lot, so I'm assuming she's ok.  Nevertheless, it's worth keeping an eye on.

As Dora ate her mouse, Christo went on another hunting trip. 

Christo diving for prey

He visited the same area seven times to look for rodents.  While I was there, he caught two mice and a rat.  Below, he carries a rat back to where Dora waited.

Christo flies off with a rat

Here he is with one of the rodents in his talon.

Christo with a small rat

Christo continued hunting as the sun went down.

Christo at sundown

He caught a mouse close to my feet.

Christo catches a rat

About two seconds after the above photo was taken, Christo abandoned his prey in order to chase an invading Cooper's hawk down Avenue A.  He later retrieved the mouse and took it back to Dora.

Christo on Avenue A

The invader:

Cooper's hawk

It's my theory that Christo and Dora have been spending so much time outside of the park this season because there are so many other hawks around and they are having to work hard to defend their territory.  In previous years, migrating hawks had already left the area before nesting time.  This year, there are still quite a few juvenile red-tails and Cooper's hawks in the neighborhood.  Now that Dora is brooding, Christo is doing double duty providing food and home security. I hope the other hawks decide to leave the city soon or, at least, leave Christo and Dora in peace.

I took a lot of photos on this day.  You can see the rest of them here.