Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Online New York hawks

Like thousands of other bird-lovers throughout the world, I've been spending a lot of time, over the last few days, watching the couple of red-tailed hawks—named Ezra (male) and Big Red (female)—who are nesting on top of a metal pole (for stadium lighting) at Cornell University in Ithaca.

Click here to see the amazing live-video streaming organized by university ornithologists. For the moment, there are two healthy chicks, and a third one is due tomorrow.

Alongside the video, there's a dense and often interesting chat, whose tone and contents gravitate between expert hawk talk (including references to the fabulous ancient art of falconry) and dumb American trivialities ("Oh, they must be cold up there in the wind", "What are the names of the babies?", "Cornell University must get around to marketing T-shirts and coffee mugs with pictures of the hawks", etc).

For newcomers to the nesting behavior of hawks (such as myself), the video is highly didactic. You learn lots of things that can't be grasped by simply observing, say, a clucky hen on its nest. But most of all, I've discovered extraordinary aspects of the great struggle for survival in the wild (if we can be forgiven for suggesting that New York City is "in the wild"). For example, a few nights ago, the female hawk was spread out above her three eggs in a pile of snow that covered completely the twigs of the nest. The expert individuals moderating the chat explained that the female hawk had moved into what they referred to as "survival mode". That's to say, the bird "had realized that the situation was dramatic" (my inverted commas indicate that the hawk was not really engaged in conscious problem-solving cogitations) and that she needed to remain perfectly calm for as long as possible, so that the totality of her animal energy could be transferred to the precious eggs. And it was only when the snow started to melt a little around her warm feathers that she dared to adjust her position, and finally consume some food (pigeon meat) brought to her by her male companion.

Human onlookers of such a situation are constantly frustrated by their impossible desire to intervene, in the hope of making things easier for the hawks and their future progeny. We have difficulty in realizing that birds have been playing this aerial procreation game ever since they ceased being dinosaurs, and that they've had ample time to learn all the basic tricks. So, we must resist the temptation to offer them advice or assistance.

On the other hand, I believe I'm doing the right thing when I give the tiny wild birds of Gamone a helping hand in winter by providing them with a constant supply of sunflower seeds. Incidentally, I notice that the Common Tits (mésanges) have got around, once again, to using the nesting box that I built a few years ago. Click here and here to see that story. During their nesting season, it would be unthinkable of me to attempt to climb up and take a peek at what's happening inside that nesting box. But I came upon a nice photo that no doubt provides us with a good idea of the present atmosphere inside that box.

Click here to read the interesting BBC article that provided this photo.

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