Baby Hawks Get Their Close-Up

In the center of a messy, bowl-shaped pile of branches, twine, plastic bags and pizza plates, two baby hawks lifted their wobbly white pompom heads Friday morning to snap at red chunks of rat flesh dangling from their mother’s beak. Steadying the rodent corpse with a talon, she tore stringy entrails and delicately fed them to her offspring, bit by bit.

Hawk Cam 2012

Chronicling the red-tailed hawks of Washington Square Park.

Mealtime on a 12th-floor ledge at New York University, where a pair of red-tailed hawks have set up a nursery overlooking Washington Square Park, comes every few hours now, since the babies, known as eyases, hatched on Monday and Tuesday. When they are not eating, they sleep beneath their mother — sometimes in a postprandial digestive coma — or play-fight like an avian Two Stooges.

All their activities are broadcast live on The New York Times’s Hawk Cam, which has returned for a second year after chronicling the fates of father hawk Bobby (back again), mother hawk Violet (died in December) and hatchling Pip (whereabouts unknown). Bobby’s new mate is Rosie. The offspring will be given names next week by Times readers.

Viewers got to watch the young ones poke and peck their way out of their speckled eggshells, a process called pipping, which lasts for hours. The tiny creatures with stubby wings and big heads weighed only about 2 ounces at birth.

The pair will be quickly transformed. The fuzzy little creatures with coal-black beaks and eyes will double their weight in the first week, and quadruple that in the second week. Their natal down will be replaced by darker plumage. Soon they will be gangly juveniles with big clown-like yellow feet dwarfing their useless wings. As their flight feathers fuse to their bones, they will prepare to take to the air for the first time, at roughly six weeks, when they will resemble the magnificent birds of prey they will become.

The hatchlings are already training for adulthood, pecking at each other, occasionally locking beaks while rocking back and forth. This play-fighting stems from their competitive instincts to vie for food, but because the supply is plentiful, no one is likely to get hurt.

Once the hawks are out of the nest, however, their real challenges begin. Their parents will help them hunt for food for the first few weeks, but after that, they are on their own to find their own hunting territories. Most eyases do not survive their first year, Glenn Phillips, the executive director of NYC Audubon, said. Many fail to find enough food, and in the city, eating a poisoned rat, which has led to the deaths of several hawks this year, is always a danger.

But, Mr. Phillips said there was more than a 70 percent chance that the two would make it to fledge day and test their wings in the park and beyond. While they are still in the nest, viewers can take in the rare spectacle of nature unfolding on a window ledge with a view of the park below.

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