Thursday, November 9, 2017

Governors Island 2017 - Part 7

I saved my favorite for the final 2017 Governors Island wildlife post: hawks!  While East Village red-tails Christo and Dora were busy raising a family in Tompkins Square this last summer, a couple of other hawks were working hard to maintain a territory on Governors Island.

I don't know if this is an official red-tailed hawk pair, but there were two individuals on the island all summer.  One was an adult and the other began the season as an immature.  Here it is on May 4 - note the barred tail and the light eye color. 

Immature red-tailed hawk

Governors Island has a few wide open spaces surrounded by tall trees, which is a nice environment for a hawk.

Light-eyed red-tailed hawk

The island paradise comes with a downside: competition. Several fish crows and a lot of gulls nested on the island over the summer, and none of them were happy to have hawks around.  I've posted this photo before, but I like it because it shows three different species (fish crow, red-tail and herring gull) in the same shot.  The red-tails were regularly mobbed by the other birds.

Crow, red-tailed hawk and gull

As is seen here with a fish crow chasing the immature hawk across the Parade Ground around Fort Jay. At the time, there was a crow nest near the fort.

 Fish crow chases red-tailed hawk

As summer wore on, the young hawk molted...

Red-tailed hawk

...and grew in an adult red tail.

Red-tailed hawk

I've been so spoiled watching our Tompkins Square hawks so easily, it was much more challenging to keep tabs on the Governors Island hawks.  I couldn't figure out what they were eating until I saw the young light-eyed hawk catch an immature starling.

Red-tail with starling

Pigeons are kind of rare on Governors Island, but starlings and mourning doves were in abundance.  I only saw one rat the whole summer, but people who work on the island tell me rats are present.  The hawks were also observed catching squirrels.


The young light-eyed hawk was the one I saw the most often, although both hawks were seen perched together several times.  To compare the two, the light-eyed hawk is below.  Note the golden head color, light belly band and small amounts of brown in the wings.

Light-eyed red-tail

This is the other, dark-eyed hawk.  Note the dark head, bright white chest and more brown in the wings.  This one also has a really interesting voice - its call is so hoarse, it sounds like someone who's had too many cigarettes and bourbon.  Unfortunately, I was never able to get a recording of this unique voice. 

Dark-eyed red-tail

The hawks were often pestered by kestrels.  Below, the light-eyed hawk takes refuge on a ledge as the shadow of a kestrel looms.

Red-tailed hawk and shadow of a kestrel

This was a typical scene - a hawk perched with a kestrel zipping around.

Kestrel and red-tail

Below, a mockingbird chases the dark-eyed hawk.

Mockingbird chasing red-tail

Cooper's hawks were present on the island, and I loved to watch them chase murmurations of starlings.  The open sky of Governors Island is great for observing this behavior.  When ever a flock of starlings took to the sky, there was a good chance a hawk might be in the mix.

Below, a Cooper's goes after a flock.  The hawk would shepherd the starlings into a tight group, then force them down and take one out.

Cooper's hawk chasing starlings

When the Cooper's got the starlings riled up, the red-tails would often take advantage. Below, the dark-eyed red-tail joins the same flock of starlings after the Cooper's took its prey.

Red-tailed hawk with starlings

Red-tailed hawk with starlings

I'm hoping this pair of red-tails remains on the island and decides to nest there.  We will have to wait until next season to find out.

This is not a hawk, but still worth noting - an osprey with a fish.  I'm not sure where it caught the fish, but I took this photo on the south side of the island near Picnic Point on October 18.  The osprey was flying from Buttermilk Channel and was headed west. I never saw it land, so I don't know where it enjoyed its lunch.

Osprey with fish

The island was open through the end of October this year, so I made sure to be there on the last day, which was Halloween.  As the sun set and the moon rose, I caught my last glimpse of the dark-eyed red-tail as it sailed over the Parade Ground.

Red-tail and moon

And, while reluctantly heading for the last ferry back to Manhattan, I was lucky to catch this last shot of a Cooper's hawk chasing a pigeon across the ferry landing.  It was a great way to end the season.

Cooper's hawk chasing a pigeon at sunset

To see more photos of the hawks on Governors Island, see my Flickr page.

I've also been keeping a running photographic record of Governors Island here. This is an ongoing project.

For information about all the birds documented on Governors Island, check out the collection of data on eBird, which is a citizen science project run by Cornell University. It's a wonderful resource and is proving to be a valuable tool for learning about bird migration and populations.

This illustrated eBird list contains photos of many of the birds observed on the island.

For anyone interested in visiting Governors Island, it is currently closed for the winter, but will be open to the public again on May 1. You can learn more about the island on its website.

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