Hawks – Predators in the Sky

Hawks are known for their talons, curved bill and sturdy legs. They can dive at up to 150 miles per hour and can snare prey in the air or on the ground. Hawks abound in the city and, with foliage falling away, are easier to see than ever.

Red Tailed Hawk with a Rat in a Tree

A hawkwill commonly eat small mammals including rodents: rabbits, rats, squirrels, etc. Hawks will also eat insects, frogs, lizards and the like, and smaller birds. They often carry their prey into branches for a safe al fresco dining experience and, if you look carefully in our parks and squares, you may spot them enjoying a rat, mouse or pigeon overhead. They are not kind or efficient killers, instead tearing their prey apart while still struggling.  

Broad-Winged Hawk

There are numerous kinds of hawks in the city – most common is the red-tailed which has adapted well to the cliff faces formed by the park-side buildings, but you may well also see the Coopers hawk, sharp-shinned hawk and broad-winged hawk in Manhattan. (There are also red-shouldered hawks, goshawks, ferruginous hawks, Harris hawks, Swainson’s hawks, Grey hawks and zone-tailed hawks – most of which I’ve never seen.)  

Coopers Hawk

One distinguishes among them typically by the shape of the head, the streaking on the breast, the color or stripes on the tail, although many are very similar looking. The female raptors are typically larger than the males. Hawks have spectacular vision, estimated at eight times the acuity of humans. And they, like all raptors, look like they have no sense of humor; they are all business.  

Red Tailed Hawk – No Sense of Humor

New York has a celebrity hawk, Pale Male, most often seen on Fifth Avenue buildings around 72nd or 73rd. He has a mate, Octavia – at least for the moment – and birders are looking for signs of a new nest and, one hopes, fertile eggs in 2020. Around the Central Park sail boat pond in warmer weather, a few stalwarts set up telescopes and try to sell (or “hawk”) views to visitors.  

Hawk Showing Beak and Talons

Hawks are NOT falcons – which can also be found in New York City. Hawks are larger, and fly more slowly than falcons; their wings are broader and they are slower. Hawks are also NOT eagles – which can also be found in New York City, although rarely in Central Park. They are a much larger raptor. With a little experience, a glance at either in flight will enable you to tell one from the others.  

Top photo: Red Tailed Hawk in flight

All photos by Fred R. Cohen. See more of his work on his website.

About Fred R. Cohen (35 Articles)
Fred Cohen, a NYC-based photographer, has been taking pictures for over four decades. His work has been published by Harry N. Abrams, Time Magazine and The New York Times. He does commissioned work and sells images from his extensive library. You can see his more casual work on face book and are welcome to visit his website at https://fredcohenphotography.weebly.com/.