Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Rare Swainson's hawk turns up in Brooklyn

There's been a rare and exciting visitor to the city these last few weeks: an immature Swainson's Hawk. This is a bird found in the western United States, and they normally migrate to Central and South America for the winter. For some reason, this one decided to go to Staten Island, and a few weeks later, Brooklyn.

Immature Swainson's Hawk hanging out in Brooklyn.

The hawk has drawn a lot of attention from birdwatchers, and I even met some people who drove all the way from Pennsylvania just to see it. It's a beauty!
Immature Swainson's Hawk hanging out in Brooklyn.

Immature Swainson's Hawk hanging out in Brooklyn.

Immature Swainson's Hawk hanging out in Brooklyn.

At first glance, this hawk could be mistaken for an immature Red-Tail, but closer inspection reveals many differences. The Swainson's is slightly smaller, has much more brown streaking on its body, has a dark brown collar on a thick-looking neck, and the wings taper at the ends.

Immature Swainson's Hawk hanging out in Brooklyn.

To compare, this is a photo of an immature Red-Tailed Hawk taken in the same location on one of my visits to the Swainson's. Note how the primary feathers on its wings fan out at the ends like fingers. It also lacks the heavy streaking on the upper chest, and has dark brown patagial marks along the front of its wings.

Immature Red-Tailed Hawk hanging out in Brooklyn.

The Swainson's is a loner among many flocking birds. This has been a typical view of it - perched alone on a building while Fish Crows, Starlings, and Pigeons swarm around it.

Immature Swainson's Hawk hanging out in Brooklyn.

The crows chased it around a few times.

Immature Swainson's Hawk being chased by crows in Brooklyn.

A few crows were more persistent and aggressive than others, dive-bombing the hawk where ever it perched.

Immature Swainson's Hawk being mobbed by a crow in Brooklyn.

Immature Swainson's Hawk being mobbed by a crow in Brooklyn.

The hawk seems very chill, though. As I watched it sit calmly for long periods of time while all the other birds around it created chaos, I learned to relax and just take in all the activity in the sky.

Immature Swainson's Hawk hanging out in Brooklyn.

Immature Swainson's Hawk hanging out in Brooklyn.

Immature Swainson's Hawk hanging out in Brooklyn.

As this hawk has toured Staten Island and Brooklyn, it will be interesting to see if it decides to explore another borough, or migrate back west.

Immature Swainson's Hawk hanging out in Brooklyn.

You can see more photos of this Swainson's Hawk on my Flickr page.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Brood time in Tompkins Square

Here we go! Several days ago, I watched as red-tailed hawk, Amelia, laid her first egg of the season. By now, her clutch (usually 1-3 eggs) should be complete. We cannot see into the nest, so do not know how many eggs there are. However, we can watch the behavior of Christo and Amelia and know that they are now in their brooding stage and will be taking turns sitting on the nest for the next few weeks.

Looking back, these are likely the last mating photos I'll have for this season:

Christo flies up behind Amelia

Christo lands on Amelia

Christo approaches Amelia

Christo has a feather stuck on his bill.

Christo and Amelia mating

Christo and Amelia mating

Christo and Amelia mating

Christo and Amelia mating

Christo and Amelia mating

Christo and Amelia mating

We only see this for a brief time each year, so there's always excitement and a lot of effort put into observing this action, which only lasts seconds.

Part of the courtship activity includes Christo presenting Amelia with gifts of food. Below, he delivers a mangled pigeon to her. He will continue to provide her with food throughout the brooding time.

Christo with prey

Christo taking food to Amelia

This is Christo in the nest. He's standing up, and when he lays down, he's nearly invisible.

Christo in his nest.

Christo in his nest.

Christo leaving the nest:

Christo taking of from the nest.

Christo again, arriving at the nest.

Christo lands on the nest.


Amelia in her nest.

This is pretty much the view of her at this point, peeking over the edge. We will have to wait for the tree to leaf out to know whether or not we'll be able to see her at all.

Amelia peeking out from her nest.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Intruder hawk snatches pigeon in front of Christo and Amelia

Tompkins Square red-tailed hawks, Christo and Amelia, have recently had their hands/talons full fending off other red-tails invading their territory. Many of these hawks are young and migrating to find territories of their own. Earlier this week, I witnessed the pair fighting with a third hawk on the dome of Most Holy Redeemer church on E 3rd Street, and the following day, something interesting happened in the park.

When I arrived at the park, I saw Christo flying around.

Christo in flight.

Amelia was also active, diving from tree to tree.

Amelia diving to a tree.

They seemed agitated and distracted, so I figured another hawk must be around. 

Then hormones took over and the pair took a break for some mating activity.

Christo and Amelia mating.

While this was going on, there was a commotion behind me, and my friend pointed out an immature red-tail on the ground, right in full view of Christo and Amelia. The hawk had apparently caught a pigeon while they were getting busy.

An immature hawk on the ground, mantling prey.

It all happened so fast, and the hawk just happened to land very close to some people.

An immature hawk with a pigeon.

This person is WAY TOO CLOSE. He was taken by surprise when the hawk landed, but he should have backed away. Instead, he got closer to take a photo. People yelled at him, but the hawk took off before anyone could do anything.

For these photos, I was far away, using a telephoto lens, and these images are cropped.

Example of someone being way too close to the hawk.

Thankfully, the hawk was able to fly off with its prey.

Red-tail taking off with its pigeon prey.

Red-tailed hawk flying with pigeon prey.

The hawk took the pigeon to a nearby tree, still in full view of the resident hawk pair. I couldn't believe they were allowing this intruder to come into their territory and take their food.

A young red-tail plucks a pigeon.

Immature red-tailed hawk with a pigeon feather in its beak.

In case anyone is wondering if this is Christo and Amelia's fledgling, it is not. This hawk has different coloring, markings, and the tail is different. I last saw their fledgling in the park last August.
Immature red-tailed hawk with pigeon prey.

As the young hawk plucked the pigeon, Amelia flew into a nearby tree and watched it with a curious look on her face.

Amelia wondering what's up.

The young hawk looked up at her, but didn't budge, and after a few minutes, Amelia returned to her original perch.

Young hawk defiantly looks at Amelia.

Christo made four visits to the young hawk, trying to intimidate it and get it to leave. The youngster chirped at him, but still wouldn't move.

Christo staring at the intruder, trying to intimidate it into leaving.

In this video, Christo is perched above the young hawk, who continues plucking the pigeon, making a lot of vocalizations.

This video takes a better look at the intruder. It's agitated by the presence of Christo and Amelia, and has its hackles up.

The young hawk struggled to eat the pigeon while maintaining its balance in gusty winds. Christo watched it from a nearby tree, which prompted the intruder to remain fluffed up, defensively mantling its dinner (apologies for the siren in the background).

When the young hawk was nearly done eating, Christo decided enough was enough and he dove at the hawk, chasing it out of the park.

Intruders like this young hawk are not a huge threat to Christo and Amelia, but it can become a problem. This situation has happened at the Decorah, Iowa, Bald Eagle nest (on cam) where intruding eagles have distracted the resident female so badly, she abandoned her egg to continue fighting off the invaders. Her mate has been incubating their egg by himself, and it is not known if the egg will survive. It seems their entire nesting season could be ruined by having to defend their territory.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Christo and Amelia gear up for their sixth nesting season

Springtime is fast approaching and East Village red-tails, Christo and Amelia, have been working hard preparing for egg-laying time. Looking back at the last several nesting seasons, Amelia generally lays her first egg in the second week of March, except for 2020, when she laid the first egg on March 4. That year turned out to be a successful one for the hawks, with three successful fledges. 

Fingers crossed this year goes well for them, although I am worried about the imminent construction project that is set to take place in Tompkins Square Park this month, which will entail tearing down the building that houses the restrooms and park offices. I have no idea how the disruption will affect the hawks, but it's probably good that they relocated their nest this year, and it is further away from the construction zone than their previous nest.

Christo approaches Amelia from behind.

A few days ago, I caught Christo flying up to Amelia who was perched on the cross of St Nicholas of Myra church on Avenue A.

Christo approaches Amelia from behind.

It's quite a feat to balance up there in the gusting wind. Note how Christo keeps his talons curled in so he doesn't stab Amelia in the back.

Christo lands on Amelia's back.

A peeping pigeon passes by...

Christo and Amelia mating while a pigeon flies by.

Christo and Amelia mating on the cross of St Nicholas of Myra church.

Christo and Amelia mating on the cross of St Nicholas of Myra church.

When he was done (about four seconds later, lol ) Christo leap-frogged over Amelia and landed in front of her.

Christo leaps off Amelia's back.

Amelia watches as Christo lands in front of her.

Amelia and Christo.

Here are some photos I never got around to posting earlier. This is Amelia on the cross of St Brigid's church.

Amelia on the cross of St Brigid's church.

This is Christo taking off from the same cross on a different day.

Christo takes off from St Brigid's church.

Christo flying towards us.

Amelia soaring:

Beautiful Amelia soaring.

Amelia zipping by against a blurred background.

Here she is back at St Brigid's.

Amelia perched on St Brigid's church at sunset.

And here is the pair on the cross of Most Holy Redeemer, as seen from the park.

Amelia and Christo seen from a distance on the cross of Most Holy Redeemer church.

Spring officially starts March 20 and I hope that by that time, Amelia will be tucked in her nest, brooding a clutch of eggs.