Sunday, October 29, 2006

Pale Male's "playmate"

A few days ago VJ Barre, a website correspondent wrote:

I have a question about pictures from Lincoln's site - they are of Lola and an unidentified RTH. Lincoln says they look to be playing together, or interacting in a positive manner. However, how can he tell? Reading some of J. Blakeman's past posts about Redtails "normal" territorial behavior, one could conclude that Lola should run off the new hawk, no matter if it's a possible "grandkid" or not. But due to the abundance of food would she tolerate another bird, even end up "playing" with it?

I was confident that the "play" activities of Pale Male and the young outsider that Lincoln suggested was one of Pale Male's grandchildren, were some form of mild territorial behavior.

Then a frequent website correspondent, Karen Kolling, wrote to John Blakeman to get his opinion. Here is his answer:

These sorts of semi-social interactions between resident adults and migrating immatures, particularly in high-quality red-tail habitats (as we now know Central Park to be) are rather common. At this time of the year, the resident adults "know" that the vagrant youngster is not trying to expropriate the territory, and that there's enough food for everyone just now.
Consequently, the presence of these temporal interlopers is often tolerated for a time.

But the young bird is not a playmate in any real sense. Red-tails (and other hawks) communicate by visual displays, as in the stunning courtship dives in February and March. The so-called play is some behavioral jousting to let all parties know their places.

And the question has been raised concerning the possibility of this bird being some second or third generation relative of Pale Male. That's almost impossible, as this bird almost surely has come down from its natal region much farther to the north. It's late October, at the very height of the red-tail migration season. Any of Pale Male's progeny of the region have almost surely departed to more southern regions. This is almost surely is a bird hatched somewhere to the north in New England, or even southern Canada.
But like Pale Male himself, lo those many years ago, it discovered that Central Park is an ideal red-tail habitat and is hanging around as long as possible. I've seen birds like this stay for the entire winter in our Ohio red-tailed hawk "Central Parks," mostly in dedicated wildlife areas and marshes along Lake Erie where large expanses of meadows are filled with meadow voles. In February or March, the resident adults push out the immature vagrants and reclaim the territories for themselves.
Let's see how long this immature sojourns in Central Park. It could be a week, or an entire winter season. Great stuff to watch, especially with a proper understand of the involved hawk sociology.

--John Blakeman