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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.