Red-Tailed Hawks in Washington Square Park, Manhattan, N.Y.–and Other Urban Hawks
Barry and I went to N.Y. to have fun in the city. And we did. But we also got to enjoy nature especially in Washington Square Park, a 9.75 acre city park near Greenwich Village. One of the oldest and best known of N.Y. City parks, it’s recognizable for its arch honoring George Washington.
And for its fountain:Besides being a popular city park for dog walkers, dancers, protesters, chess enthusiasts, musicians, people watchers, and an urban forest, Washington Square Park is now home to a family of red-tailed hawks. Red-tailed hawks, the most common of hawks, are found all over North America, Central America, and the West Indies. Red-tailed hawks are also known as buzzard hawks and red hawks although some of the 14 subspecies are without red tails. In the wild, they live about 21 years. They are monogamous and mate for life.
However, Ellyn told us that Rosie is Bobby’s second mate. When his first mate, Violet, had a very serious foot injury, she was captured by a wonderful pair of rehabbers (http://rogerpaw.blogspot.com/2011/12/violet-has-been-rescued-december-24.html) and taken to their facility on Long Island to receive needed medical care. Violet had surgery a few days later but, sadly, had a heart attack afterwards and died. Rosie showed up in Washington Square Park on Christmas Day, 2011, the day after Violet had been captured!
Red-tailed hawks prefer open areas of fields or deserts; however, they are very adaptable and can be found in mountains, rain forests, and — as Barry and I saw–even in New York City. Nests are of sticks usually nestled high above ground.
The nest we saw was built on a ledge of the 12th floor of Bobst Library, outside the window of the New York University president!According to National Geographic, females usually lay one to five eggs each year. However the Washington Square Park red-tailed hawks, Ellyn reports, have had only one or two chicks a year, which is likely to be typical of urban hawks. The first year Bobby and Violet had Pip. The second year Bobby and Rosie had Scout and Boo (named after major characters in To Kill a Mockingbird as a result of contests run by the New York Times.) Pale Male and his mate had three eyasses this year and two the previous year.
Both sexes incubate the eggs for four to five weeks, and both feed the chicks from the time they hatch until they leave the nest about six weeks later.
Ellyn notes, “Many hawk cam watchers continually refer to the young hawks out of affection as ‘the babies.’ Experts will tell you they are actually called ‘eyasses’ until they migrate. I have heard many people call them ‘fledglings’ or ‘hawklings’ once they fledge and ‘juveniles’ probably until they are about a year old.”
Red-tailed hawks are carnivores. Their body size ranges from 18 to 26 in (45 to 65 cm); wingspan, 38 to 43 in (1.1 to 1.3 m) and weight 24.3 to 51.5 oz (690 to 1,460 g). Red-tailed hawks have very keen sight and are efficient hunters. [From <http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/red-tailed-hawk/>
The New York Times has a live cam record of the red-tailed hawks when they are nesting: <http://www.livestream.com/nytnestcam>. A wonderful blog that focuses primarily on the Washington Square hawks is at <http://wsphawks.com/>.
This family of wild hawks has a following of interested and concerned New Yorkers. We joined them.
Suddenly, Rosie swooped down from the tree branch where she had been perched and landed in the foliage.
We watched. We couldn’t see what Rosie had caught, but we could tell she was on it and probably squeezing it with her talons.
Then, after about six long minutes, we saw Rosie fly off–carrying a rat in her talons! We sprinted after her and got to see one of the hawklings practice an important skill.
An informative handout given out at the park notes that Scout and Boo hatched on April 9 and 10, 2012, respectively. They spent their first seven weeks in their nest On Memorial Day, May 28, the two fledged, flying to the ledges and rooftops of NYU buildings around the park.
This summer the two needed to learn to fly long distances and find food on their own. Ellyn reports, “No one really knows what has happened to the hawklings. One day they’re just gone. A few juveniles have been spotted in the area, but it is impossible to tell if it is one of ours or a migrating hawk. We can only hope they are among the small percentage of young hawks that survive their first year.” Although the red-tailed hawks are protected by Federal law, the sad fact is that eighty percent of red-tailed hawks die during their first year.
Another red-tailed hawk family of Pale Male and Zena has its nest on Fifth Avenue. For many good photos, go to <http://palemale-store.stores.yahoo.net/2012.html>.
Also, Ellyn notes, “There’s a wonderful documentary about Pale Male. DVDs have just become available to the general public at <http://thelegendofpalemale.com/HOME.html>. There are wonderful clips on the site. Netflix doesn’t carry it, but they do have an earlier one called “Pale Male” by the same director. It’s also wonderful.”
Recently Ellyn reported that the parents Bobby and Rosie came through Hurricane Sandy, as did Pale Male in Central Park. She notes, “They’re really amazing creatures.”
She also reports, “A concerned group has been trying to get various institutions to stop putting out rat poison in the parks. The baiting can end up killing the beautiful hawks when they eat the poisoned rats. They even put them here in Washington Square despite knowing that Bobby and Rosie are here. One day, bait boxes filled with poison were put out. We deluged the Parks Dept with calls and letters, started online petitions, etc. Some people also met with reps of the Metropolitan Museum which had been putting out poison until Pale Male’s babies were poisoned this summer (they were in rehab for months).For now, the bait boxes have been removed, but only temporarily. If they aren’t able to quell the rat population, they may revert to poison again. It takes a phenomenal amount of work for average citizens to opposed the powers that be successfully. And, we constantly have to be on the alert.”
These urban hawks have many challenges to be able to survive.
Ellyn also reports that in Philadelphia, a hawk family has its nest on the window ledge of the board of directors of the Franklin Institute. They have a hawk cam and regular commentary at http://sunnydixie.blogspot.com/.
“This was an amazing year as the beloved dad was struck and killed by a truck . . .three hungry eyasses waited in the nest. It would have probably been impossible for the mom to hunt and feed all the babes and herself, as well as protect them in the nest from predators. She was offered supplemental food in the way of frozen rats left on the window ledge (which she accepted) and she linked up with a younger male redtail who she allowed to hunt and feed the young ones (unheard of [at least for humans following the habits of hawks] for a mom to allow this and for a male to take care of another male’s babies).
The hawks never cease to amaze and teach us!” Thanks to Ellyn for introducing Barry and me to these urban red-tailed hawks and for sharing her expertise.
Also a big thanks to Ellyn and others who are speaking out for creatures in the wild–and to those authorities who listen to them. These urban red-tailed hawks and their hawklings have a chance to survive. I know I will be checking next season to see how N.Y. City red-tailed hawks are doing–and hope you will too.
* Photographs taken by me.