Adam Welz's Weblog

Friday the 13th on Houston and D – nearly arrested over a bird…

Posted in ALL BLOG POSTS, birds & birding by adamwelz on June 14, 2008

Hello All

it’s late and I’m bushed so this’ll be quick n dirty.

I’ve been following a Red-tailed Hawk nest down on the lower east side of Manhattan. it’s on an airconditioner over a busy road. Bad nest position. The nest has had 3 chicks, raised well, and they’re approaching the time of fledging. Over the last few days 2 of the nestlings have flown. Both ahve ended up on the ground in somewhat dodgy situations, and have been taken in to the care of a rehab guy for a short while until all their flight feathers ahve properly grown out. Houston 3, as I call him, the thrird yongster on the nest, had until today wisely decided to stay put there.

Anyhow, I went down to film him, and set up the tripod, quite early this afternoon. I zoomed in and locked off the shot on the nest, and started rolling, just when I noticed a funny buzzing on channel 2 of the sound. While I was trying to sort that out, lo and behold, Houston 3 flapped a bit, took an oncoming gust, and flew for the first time! Since the tripod was locked off I have no follow shot – tho I’m well chuffed I got waht I did – and in fact could not see where he went. We scoured the ‘hood for a blocks in all directions, and then I diecided to go off uptown to get the camera looked at. No sooner had I missioned across to 38th st, taken the camera ou tot show the techinician what was ‘wrong’ and have it behave perfectly, than my phone rang. houston 3 had been found, goofing off in a tree across the road from his nest. I hurried back (carrying all this gear across Manhattan is making me fit) and started shooting him flopping from branch to branch. After a littel while mama Red-tail piched up with a nice juicy rat, and started flying back and forth around the nest area, tempting houston 3 to fly, to come get dinner. i guess this is the natural way of getting a new fledgling flying fit.

As I was filming rat-pack mama on the nest, I heard a huge commotion. Houston 3 had flown back across the 4 lanes of traffic of Houston St, aiming for his nest building – but had failed to read a good perch. He was flopping around, trying desperately to cling to a vertical wall. As I got my camera on to him trying to perch on a vertical, he suddenly gave up, turned, and came down at a steep angle on to the tarmac of the west-running lane of Houston. He crash-landed somewhat badly (having done precious little landing in his life, and never before on the ground), belly flopped forward and skidded across the tarmac. Crap!

Blimpie, one of the neighbourhood’s hawk fans, imediately ran out into the traffic, waving his arms and blowing the whistle that he carries everywhere – an unforgettable sight. All I could think was get the poor dumb bird out of the road! Francois, a Swiss-French photographer who has been photographing the birds, was already taking his shirt off to throw over the by now very confused Houston 3 (I’d been telling him yesterday what do do if this happened) and other people were already bearing down on him from all sides (the hawks are somwhat of a local circus with $0 entry tickets). My camera was on a tripod, and I could not move fast with it, so I abandoned the viewfinder and sprinted across to get the hawk – as a result, missing the dramatic money shot (urgh – producer, please don’t be angry w me!). i was conscious of at least two more people with hands on the bird as I lifted it up, one tugging on the wing. As I scooped it up and crossed the road, to where some trees were that I had a vague idea of putting it up in, a crowd began to form. Somewhere before or after this a car crashed into another car because someone was trying to see the hawk. there were jokes about me being the “Discovery Channel in the ‘Hood” (I guess making videos and simultaneously grabbing hold of unhappy wildlife is, indeed, what the game’s all about nowadays 😉

i asked the people to stand back so i could give the bird a littel peace and see if I could get it into a decent tree, when suddenly a plainclothes cop car pulled across in front of me, the guy grabbing his badge from under his shirt – all very NY cop show. “where the heck are you going w that bird’ etc. I told the cop I knew how to handle raptors and the best thing for the bird might be just to release it in a nearby tree. (Cop thought I was trying to steal it – whcih happens a lot to urban raptors in NYC)

“Is that a badge in your hand or are you just unhappy to see me?” 😉

That was not to be. Within another minute things had become completely insane. there were something like 40 or 50 people around, yelling at me, some to release the bird, most wanting me to turn around so they could take pictures of it (I felt like a goddamn movie star on Oscar night – it’s not fun). somebody was climbing a tree and telling me to toss the bird up to them, like it was a football???, kids were screaming senseless stuff – it was all too hectic. There was no way I was going to get the by now incredibly stressed bird into any kind of useful tree without it being hounded into harm by the public. Officer Keenan (the name of the rather sizeable cop in the pic below) seems to have somewhat lost his temper at that point too. He got out of his car an informed me in no uncertain terms that he didn’t care who I was or what I did, he was taking the bird. (“You can’t expect to walk around in Manhattan with a hawk and not have a crowd form around you!” was one of his more astute observations.) I told him that if he could find me a box, and make sure the bird got to Bobby Horvath (the only rehabber I know in NYC, who happens to have this bird’s siblings under care), I would give him the bird. You don’t really have any bargaining power with an NY police officer who’s had it, but I guess he understood that he did not want to be clawed by a hawk and htat maybe putting it in a box instead of the trunk of his car was at the end of the day the most practical solution. He went off, and came back with a dirty cat-carrier, better than nothing I guess, I put Houston 3 in it and asked Officer Keenan if he could drape somehting over the cage so the bird could be less stressed. He told me that was the last thing on his priority list (which I guess it is, if your job is to bust drug dealers in the projects) and walked off with Houston 3 bouncing around unhappily in his new confinement.

Bobby Horvath (whom I had called in the middle of the madness) was on his way, and when he arrived we tracked the bird down to an animal pound facility somewhere uptown (Houston 3 had a small blood spot on his bill but otherwise seemed healthy). So – i got home at almost 11, exhausted the bird is safe in the hands of an experienced rehabber, and hopefully will be released with his sibs shortly, in a nearby area where their parents can carry on raising them. I trust that next year the Houston St hawks will find a safer place to raise a brood…

Now I just need to figure out how to tell this drama for my little documentary, seeing as half the shots are missing. you can’t film and hang on to birds and try to hold back the insatiably curious public all at once, but when that insect gene gets inserted into the human genome, you know, the one that’ll give you six arms and legs, I’ll be first in line for the treatment!

Note to producer: I’m not even going to consider a re-enactment!



PS there are doubtless pics on some of the urban hawk blogs from NYC now – google Yolton’s blog and pale male blog…