Thursday, February 27, 2020

Christo catches another big one

Tompkins Square Park's resident male red-tailed hawk, Christo, continues to fulfill his duty ridding the park of giant rats. After seeing him grab what I considered a huge rat last week, I saw Christo catch another whopper.

Just after sunset, a rat came out of its burrow behind the restrooms and made the fatal mistake of wandering into a corner where the steps meet the wall. It was literally cornered and Christo made short work nailing it.

Christo catches a big rat

I didn't realize how big the rat was until Christo took to the air.

Christo catches a big rat


Christo catches a big rat

Half a second after taking off, Christo readjusted his grip, holding on to the rat with both talons. You can see the rat is as long as his leg.

Christo catches a big rat

He then sort of folded the rat up, making the bundle easier to carry.

Christo catches a big rat

Christo catches a big rat

He took it up into a big tree nearby.

Christo preparing his rat

After eating his share (the head), Christo called to his mate, Amelia, announcing he had dinner ready.

Christo calling for Amelia to come get her rat

At the time, she was perched on the church at Avenue A and 10th Street, and made no motion to come to him, so he took off to deliver the rat to her.

Christo making a rat delivery

Midway to the church, Christo made a rest stop on a building with the Empire State Building in the background.

Christo with a rat and the Empire State Building

I wonder if any of the people up on the observation deck had any idea of the life-death drama taking place 25 blocks south?

Christo and the Empire State Building

Monday, February 24, 2020

Rat: It's what's for dinner

I caught up with red-tailed hawk, Christo, as he was hunting for dinner in Tompkins Square Park. Just before sunset, he nabbed a huge rat behind the restrooms.

I like to think he took his catch to the birdbath to wash before eating, but he was likely just getting in a better position to fly.

Christo takes his rat to the bath

Look at the size of that rat! Christo usually goes for the smaller ones, but recently he's been catching meals big enough to share with his mate, Amelia.

Christo catches a huge rat

Christo took off with his heavy haul, zipping right past an observer.

Christo takes off with his rat

Posing with his trophy:

Pre-dinner photo-op

Christo catches a huge rat for dinner

I couldn't get over the size of the rat. I see young hawks go for big prey, only to realize they can't carry it far. As Christo has gotten older and more precise with his hunting, he usually goes for the smaller, easier to handle rats, so this was a surprise.

Christo catches a huge rat in Tompkins Square

Rat: it's what's for dinner

After eating his share, Christo took the rest to Amelia who waited in a tree on the other side of the park. They will share meals like this during the breeding season.

Christo at sunset 

More to come.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Sexy time for Tompkins Square hawks

Tompkins Square red-tailed hawks, Christo and Amelia, are moving right along with nest preparations. I spent some quality time with the pair this last weekend and lucked out with some beautiful weather.

Below, Christo perches on top of the nest in the locust tree. It's much deeper than the one he shared with Dora in 2017, and it will be interesting to see how much of it we'll be able to see once the leaves grow in on the trees.

Christo atop his creation

Amelia arranges bark in the nest. You can get an idea of the size of the nest as the two hawks fit in it comfortably.

Amelia arranges bark in the nest

A short while later, Amelia perched in a different locust tree and Christo approached her from the side.

Christo approaches Amelia

We know what's coming!

Christo lands on Amelia

Christo lands on top of her and they do their thing.

Christo and Amelia mating

Red-tails Christo and Amelia mating

The whole event takes about five seconds.

Red-tailed hawks Christo and Amelia mating

It's interesting to note the position of Christo's talons as he balances on Amelia's back. He keeps his back toe folded into his foot, so he's not digging his claws into her.

Close-up of talon position

Note both of his feet below:

Christo and Amelia mating in Tompkins Square

Rather than having a good grip, Christo is balancing on curled feet, a feat in itself!

Close-up of talon position while mating

Three seconds later:

Christo & Amelia hanging out in Tompkins Square

Another day, another angle.

Tompkins Square hawks Christo and Amelia mating

I love how these two hang out together afterwards.

Red-tailed hawk pair Christo & Amelia

But time is limited and there's still nest-work to do, so Christo takes off to resume his chores while Amelia preens.

Christo takes off 

Stay tuned...

Monday, February 17, 2020

How close is too close to our urban hawks?

It's easy to forget boundaries while living in this crowded city, especially when it comes to wildlife. Our urban hawks have a high tolerance for human activity, and they allow us to be a lot closer to them than hawks in more rural areas would. That said, how close is too close when it comes to the hawks in our local parks?

Red-tails Christo and Amelia are embarking on another nesting season in Tompkins Square Park, and they can often be seen gathering sticks and hunting in the park while there are a lot of people around. I feel we need reminders that these birds are wild and not tame, despite appearing to be friendly.

Over the years, I have seen people get way too close to the hawks - either the fledglings are playing on the ground and someone decides to let their dog run around in the same area, or the hawks are hunting and people interfere. This is often the case with Christo, as he hunts a lot in the park and will often perch low on a fence or bench. It's tempting to get close to him for a picture as he seems to be posing, but in reality, he is hunting for rodents on the ground.

This happened today, when Christo was hunting for rats behind the park offices. There used to be a cabinet and a storage container that hid rat holes underneath them. Christo could perch in a tree, watch the rats come out, then nab any one he chose. The park has been cleaned up quite a bit recently and the cabinet and storage container have been removed and the rat holes filled in. Since this happened, Christo has to work a little harder for his food and is often forced to get lower to the ground to hunt for rats, which means he perches on the fences.

When he does this, it's tempting to walk up to him and snap a pic, especially if someone has a cellphone and needs to get close to their subject. I've found that people who do this usually just don't know what's going on and are excited to see the bird. However, I see a lot of people, including other photographers who should know better, decide to interfere in order to get a picture.

The photo below shows Christo on a fence as he's hunting rats, and someone approaches him from behind and gets extremely close. This is way too close.

I don't think the person meant any harm, but Christo had to abandon his hunting and fly away. 

Christo resumed his hunting after all the people left the area. Today he was lucky as he was able to finally catch a rat, but I've seen days when he's unable to catch dinner because people have interfered with him and he's gone without eating. In some cases, a missed meal could mean life an death for a bird, especially when the parents are feeding their young.

Another reason not to annoy the hawks while they hunt in the park is we don't want them to be so uncomfortable, they start hunting somewhere else. There is no rodenticide being used in Tompkins Square (the Parks Department has been using dry ice), so the rats the hawks catch in the park are safer to eat than those caught outside the park. There is rat poison all over the city, and it can and does kill the hawks who eat the poisoned rats. Christo and Amelia lost both their babies last year to secondary rodenticide poisoning when the parents fed the chicks poisoned rats. Where the rats came from, we don't know, so it's imperative we keep the park a safe and welcoming place for the hawks to hunt. No one can control where the hawks find their food, and the adults are at risk every time they eat a rat.

I invested in a long lens so I could stand further away from the hawks when I take photos. Many of the pictures I post here appear to be close-up, but I shoot at 400+mm and usually crop the photos. The welfare of the birds is way more important than a picture, and I strive to observe the hawks without getting in their way.

As nesting season is quickly approaching, please use care when observing the hawks in the city. We are so fortunate to have them living here and to be able to witness their lives, we just have to remember to give them their space.

/rant over

Monday, February 10, 2020

Happy Year of the Rat!

2020 is the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac and we celebrated the new year by attending the Lunar Parade in Chinatown this last Sunday. It was great to see so many smiles and people enjoying themselves.

2020 Chinese Lunar New Year Parade in NYC

2020 Chinese Lunar New Year Parade in NYC

2020 Chinese Lunar New Year Parade in NYC

2020 Chinese Lunar New Year Parade in NYC

Chinese Lunar Parade 2020 in NYC

Chinese Lunar Parade 2020

Chinese Lunar Parade 2020

Chinese Lunar Parade 2020 in NYC

NYC Chinese Lunar Parade 2020

NYC Chinese Lunar Parade 2020

NYC Chinese Lunar Parade 2020

Year of the Rat mural in NYC

You can see more photos of the Lunar Parade on my Flickr page.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Early birds: Red-tails Christo & Amelia getting a head start on spring

Tompkins Square Red-Tailed Hawks, Christo and Amelia, spent most of January working on their nest in the park. Now it seems they've moved on to mating, which puts them on an earlier nesting schedule than last year.

In 2019, the hawks were seen mating in mid-February. This year, I caught them mating on February 3. The photos below show them on top of the Christodora building on that day.

Christo approaches Amelia

Red-tails Christo & Amelia

Christo lands on Amelia

Christo & Amelia mating

Christo & Amelia mating atop the Christodora

The hawks will likely continue bonding and working on their nest, which appears to be the Honey Locust location near the Temperance Fountain. This nest was last used in 2017 by Christo and Dora (the season that saw the single fledgling, Ten, and the introduction of foster-hawk, Flatbush).

Last year, Amelia laid an egg on/around March 13, so it will be interesting to see if they stick to the same schedule this year.