Bird Nerd

Growing up, my parents were very into birds — probably because good family friends are essentially professional birders. My childhood was full of references to “GBHs” and “TVs”, terms birders will recognize as short-hand for Great Blue herons and Turkey vultures. Although I still smirk when I hear people refer to a “titmouse,” I know that they’re talking about a bird, and not a topless rodent.

As a kid, I mostly tried not to learn about birds, but some of my parents’ lessons sunk in. While I’m still not a very good birder, I can (usually) tell a buteo from an accipter — and just knowing that terminology is probably all you need to confidently identify me as a bird nerd. My range is limited to primarily birds of prey — birds that I can generally identify without needing binoculars — and my territory these days is online.

Although I never wanted to “go birding” with my parents, I have become an avid online birder — thanks to the New York Times hawk cam, which launched last spring when two red-tailed hawks nested on a ledge of a building on the NYU campus with a view of Washington Square Park.

Violet & Pip (May 24, 2011)

I tuned in daily to watch the family of red-tailed hawks, Violet, Bobby and Pip. I loved seeing Violet and Bobby trade off egg-warming duties and watching as each hawk would rearrange parts of the nest while the other was out (Hawks — They’re Just Like Us!). I was thrilled when Pip hatched, and I tuned in every morning to watch Violet, the mama hawk, tear a dead rat into baby-sized bits. (Given my hatred/fear of rats, I find feeding time very satisfying).

Over the next month, I watched Pip grow from a little bobble-headed puffball into a fledgling. I laughed when Pip backed up and launched a projective shit at the camera after enjoying a big meal of rat, and I got choked up when Pip took flight and left the nest.

On the day Pip fledged, one of the people in the online-chat that livestreams next to the hawk cam summed up what I’ve come to love about online birding: “Isn’t nature amazing?!  All the junky stuff going on in the world… and we got to partake in a miracle.”

Two Eyasses (April 12, 2012)

If you missed last year’s miracle, you’ve got a second chance this year. Although Violet died earlier this year, Bobby and his new mate, Rosie, are back at the nest with two hatchlings and the New York Times hawk cam is there to capture their every move. Sometimes you’ll just see Rosie sitting on the nest, but tune in at the right time and you’ll see two adorable hawk babies and live rat evisceration. It’s TV worth watching.

If the webcam isn’t enough, the New York Times City blog posts about the NYU hawks and often brings in wildlife experts to answer questions about bird behavior. Last year, I learned that a baby hawk is called an eyass and that an eyass will eat until it passes out, and I learned that poisoned rats are a big risk to urban hawks.

Once I got hooked on the New York Times hawk cam, I realized San Francisco had its nest cam focused on a pair of peregrine falcons who nest downtown San Francisco on the PG&E building. Although I missed the chance to see the falcon hatchlings last year, this year there are four (!) little ones to watch.

The NYU red-tails clearly have the better nest — the falcons have what looks to be a sand/gravel pit — but one highlight of watching the falcons is that they don’t just bring in rats for the babies to eat, they bring in pigeons. (I don’t have a life list, but if I did, seeing a falcon snatch a pigeon off city streets would be on it.)

More Online Bird Watching

Once the hawk cam released my inner bird nerd, I started looking for other information on urban birds and, no surprise, there’s lots of it.

For more on NYC hawks (and owls!), go to the Urban Hawks blog. The pictures and videos are incredible. You’ll find more pictures of the NYU red-tails (watch feeding time with Rosie and Bobby’s two eyasses), and you’ll get to see other birds that are nesting in New York City, like the red-tail nest on 5th Avenue, and my very favorite nest built on a statue on St John the Devinesuch a great use of a church.

If birds of prey aren’t your thing, from the NYT hawk cam, you can click over to a webcam of Great Blue heron (GBH) nesting.


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