By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — For newborns, they're pretty independent.
Less than two months old, two baby red-tailed hawks in Riverside Park are already venturing out of mom and dad's nest as they learn to fly.
The hawk toddlers comprise the second brood born to the hawk family this year.
In May, their three hatchlings were killed when a gust of wind knocked the nest to the ground. With Hurricane Earl bringing strong gusts and heavy rains to the Manhattan area on Friday, the hawk parents and their brood may face a serious new danger.
But for now, the young hawks have been putting on quite a show for hawk watchers this week, who line up with cameras to capture the young raptors' antics just north of the 79th Street Boat Basin in Riverside Park, where the two fledglings have been spotted swooping from tree to tree and occasionally hopping around on the grass to play with twigs.
Hawk watcher Bruce Yolton, who runs the blog Urban Hawks, says this is a critical time for the young hawks.
Last year, the same hawk family lost two of its young when they flew into the path of cars on the West Side Highway, which is just a few hundred yards from their nest.
The accident was probably due to the young hawks' inexperience with both flying and cars, Yolton said. He believes the fledglings jumped off a branch, made a deep dive to pick up speed and flew right into oncoming traffic.
Hoping to avoid a repeat of that tragedy, Yolton is asking the hawks' fans to keep a respectful distance so the fledglings don't get startled and fly into traffic again.
"We don't need to be overly zealous, but we need to use common sense," Yolton said.
While the hawks are robust animals, it's a good idea to avoid chasing them or yelling near them, and it's best to keep dogs on a leash around them, Yolton said.
The hawk parents aren't shy about protecting their young either, Yolton said. He's seen the hawk mother warn dogs chasing squirrels to keep their distance by swooping low with her talons exposed.
It's not clear whether the hawk mother does that because she thinks the dogs are competing for prey or because she sees them as a threat to her babies, Yolton said.