Urban Red-tails: The Queens Experience
By Jeff Kollbrunner

[b]Mama and Papa in 2007[/b]Mama and Papa in 2007

In 1994, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks moved into Briarwood, a neighborhood in Queens, NY, and luckily for us, they adapted well to their new home. We affectionately named them Mama and Papa. Observation of Mama and Papa over the years has revealed a great deal about these amazing birds.

In 2004, I observed the development of two chicks day by day. One fledgling, after it left the nest for good, crashed into the side of a building on a couple of days with gusty winds. It became apprehensive and, appearing to lose confidence in itself, retreated back to the nest. The other, more skilled and confident—we named it “Golden Boy”—attempted to inspire the timid sibling. Routinely, it would land above the nest, call down, and flap its wings in what appeared to be an attempt to say, “This is how you do it, let’s go.” Golden Boy even helped the parents provide food for his apprehensive sibling while it remained in the nest. After ten days, the two youngsters flew off together. Golden Boy maintained a watchful eye over its sibling, staying nearby and sharing food, and the two remained close to each other until the end of summer.

In 2005, Papa injured his wing protecting the nest site. When he was sitting on top of a building, his wing would rise freely over his head with the slightest breeze; when he was at rest the wing hung low by his side. Mama fed her long-time mate for more than three months. Each evening when he landed next to her to roost, she checked his injured wing. The injury finally healed, but without Mama’s support Papa may not have survived.

In the spring of 2006, our hawks’ nest was destroyed by humans. Luckily, Mama and Papa were able to build a new nest within 48 hours at a location near the old one. Two weeks later, Mama laid a clutch of eggs. This time people in the apartment nearby not only left the hawks alone; they helped protect the hawks and their nest. Mama and Papa raised two healthy youngsters.

In late December of 2006, Mama and Papa placed some fresh twigs on a large window air conditioner of a tall building just a few hundred yards from the previous seasons' nest. By mid-January, 2007, they apparently felt comfortable with this nest location, since they started construction on a regular basis completing their nest by early March. On March 7 Mama laid the first of her eggs for the season.

At this time, I brought the nest site to the attention of Yigal Gelb, program director of the NYC Audubon Society. Working together, we obtained permission to place a webcam a few windows away from the nest to monitor the Red-tailed Hawks' nesting behaviors. Thanks to the wonderful people involved at the nest location, we have all been privileged to witness the birth, rearing, and development of the red-tailed hawk family we affectionately know as Mama and Papa and their offspring.

After spending hours in the hawks’ presence and observing their behavior, one can't help but appreciate the majesty of this raptor, its keen awareness and intelligence. Red-tailed Hawks flourish in urban areas. We should do our part to help them, benefiting both the hawks and ourselves.

Jeff's photography and records of Mama and Papa may be viewed at www.JKNatureGallery.com and Facebook.com/JKNatureGallery


Here is an overview of recent nesting seasons of Mama and Papa and the families they have produced:

2008 fledgling facts — three eggs, three eyasses, three fledged
March 4th or 5th: the first day that Mama and Papa started sitting on the nest, indicating that an egg had been produced or was about to be produced.
April 21: the first sighting of Mama and Papa's eyasses in the nest at 4:27pm.
June 1: two of the youngsters fledged; the third left on June 3.
As of October 16: the third fledgling was still in the area. Its two siblings seem to have left the area during the first week of August.

2009 fledgling facts  two eggs, two eyasses, one fledged
March 7: Mama spent her first night in the 2009 nest.
April 14: we have confirmed that Mama and Papa have at least two very active nestlings that hatched between April 5 and 8.
May 7: we confirmed that the second eyass had perished. We hadn't seen it from our ground observations for about a week.
June 3: between 2pm and 6:30pm the remaining eyass fledged and was doing fine.

2010 fledgling facts — three eggs, three eyasses, one fledged
March 1st: Mama spent her first night in the 2010 nest.
April 12: we confirmed that Mama and Papa have at least two healthy nestlings, three to four days of age.
April 13: we confirmed that there are a total of three healthy nestlings.
May 4: the youngest eyass was taken by a predator, most likely by a great horned owl.
May 10: the second youngest eyass perished from frounce (an infection).
May 22: the remaining healthy eyass fledged.

2011 fledgling facts — two eggs, two eyasses, two fledged 
March 2: Mama first overnighted.
April 15 or 16: Mama and Papa produced their first hatch of the season.
May 8: we confirmed that two healthy eyasses are in the nest.
June 5 and 6: the two eyasses fledged.

2012 fledgling facts — two eggs, two eyasses, two fledged
March 3, 2012 Started nesting April 11, 2012 First hatch
May 25, 2012 Younger Eyass most likely a female falls out of nest at least 80 feet to roof below. Due to the Holiday weekend we had no access to the rooftop and coordinated for an early morning rescue.
May 26, 2012 We rescue the Eyass at 7am with Bobby Horvath the Eyass appears to have a concussion and some bleeding in the mouth.
May 28, 2012 Remaining Eyass fledged nest
June 6, 2012 After two weeks in rehab we coordinate the release of the now healthy Eyass that previously fell out of the nest and reunite it with its sibling on an apartment rooftop. After about 30 minutes the two siblings are sitting next to one another. Approximately 30 minutes later Papa lands next to the two fledglings and sees he now has two mouths to feed once again. Papa then leaves to hunt for his family. Both Fledglings survived the winter, we still see the female on occasion and the male seems to have left in search of his own territory.

2013 fledgling facts — three eggs, three eyasses, three fledged
March 9, 2013 Started nesting
April 19, 2013 First hatch
April 22, 2013 Two Eyasses confirmed
May 2, 2013 Three Eyasses confirmed
June 5, 2013 One First to Fledge
June 8, 2013 Two and three Fledge
June 13, 2013 Fledgling one last seen. This Fledgling was very confident, good in flight at an early stage and may have drifted off in its own direction separate from his siblings and may still be doing well.If so, we believe it may be in the South Eastern section of Mama and Papa's territory. However, we still have not found the Fledgling to date. The remaining two Fledglings continue to do well.

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