Feathered soap opera playing out above Philadelphia

Here’s the list of characters:

Dad: dedicated and attentive, but dead. He got hit by a car while hunting last week.

Mom: now a single mom, overworked, who must keep the chicks warm and protected, as well as do all the hunting.

The Stranger: a drifter (in Red Tail Hawk parlance, a “floater”) who sees an opportunity.

This domestic drama playing out on the window ledge of the board room at the Franklin Institute is streaming 24/7 on the internet. It rivals anything on “General Hospital.”

Here’s the list of characters:

Dad: dedicated and attentive, but dead. He got hit by a car while hunting last week.

Mom: now a single mom, overworked, who must keep the chicks warm and protected, as well as do all the hunting.

The Stranger: a drifter (in Red Tail Hawk parlance, a “floater”) who sees an opportunity.

This domestic drama playing out on the window ledge of the board room at the Franklin Institute is streaming 24/7 on the internet. It rivals anything on “General Hospital.”

After the death of “Dad,” the Franklin Institute started helping out by leaving food on the ledge, so “Mom” wouldn’t have to spend so much time hunting.

Playing the part of a woman who carries dead rats in her bag, is Carolyn Sutton.

“These are extra large white rats that we got from a lab,” said Sutton, a Franklin Institute volunteer who shows off an 8-inch rat, thawed, in a Ziploc bag.

Sutton cracks open the window and tosses a few rodents near the nest. It’s just inches from the nest. Too close for Mama Hawk. She gives Sutton a glorious spectacle of a full-grown hawk spreading its wings, fluffing its feathers, and swelling to about twice its normal size. In hawk parlance, this is known as “The Look.”

Soon, that rodent was shredded and fed to the chicks.

Now, the plot has thickened.

Mama’s got a brand new man.

Another male — The Stranger — has started coming around the nest. He brings dead voles. He seems nice.

“She recognized the male, the male recognized the female. They hit it off,” said John Blakeman, a hawk expert in Huron, Ohio, with whom the Franklin Institute is consulting. “They both recognized that all things were working out, so now they are a mated pair. He’s raising someone else eyasses [chicks], but he’s bringing food.  He didn’t watch the eggs get laid, he didn’t copulate the female. He’s just stepping in and doing a fantastic job.”

Blakeman has never seen hawks find new mates this far into the brooding period. At the same time this is unfolding on the Franklin Institute hawkcam, a similar drama is playing out in Manhattan, at New York University, but there the genders are flipped. That, too, is streaming online in real-time video.

The chat room associated with the webcam has exploded with comments and speculation. Blakeman has to remind spectators to refrain from giving the hawks human emotions.

“Everyone’s saying that the new mother is a cougar,” said Blakeman. “I have to point out that, no, they aren’t human. They’re not even mammals. They don’t think like we do. They don’t mate like we do.”

After all this is reality. Not reality TV.

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