850 Words.  (Double click on photos to see them full size.)

Hawk on my balcony

I thought a Falcon landed on my balcony in the Bronx.

As I walked to my Bronx apartment, laden with bags of groceries, I looked up and saw him. He was huge, beautiful, majestic, and he was, once again, observing his domain from 18-stories up, on my balcony. The falcon returned, I thought.

I walked faster. All I could think of was getting to my apartment, getting my camera, and taking shots of him.  My last pictures of the falcon were dark and murky.

Quietly, ever so quietly, I shut my front door, put down my bags, got my camera,  crawled to the kitchen window, and began shooting. One problem: the window screen. It caused previous pictures to be too dark for a positive confirmation.

Carefully, gingerly, and again quietly, I moved it. He noticed a couple of times and gave me a harsh “Do Not Disturb” glare.  Finally, with the screen moved, he was about five-and-a-half feet from me, and I could get a few decent pictures. Afterward, I enjoyed his company, and he accepted mine. Ultimately, this time, he stayed for almost four hours.

classic features of a young hawk

Hawks have a brown ‘belly band’ across their chest with white above and below it. “That’s a classic red-tailed hawk,” said Paul Zeph, National Audubon Society.

My bird is no falcon. He is a red-tailed hawk. The species was confirmed by Paul Zeph, an educator with the National Audubon Society. You can’t tell their sex unless they are copulating or standing next to each other in pairs. “The females are larger,” he said.

My visitor appears to be a juvenile. What gave him away was the side picture.  “Hawks have this wide kind of band across the middle of their chest. We actually call that the ‘belly band,’ ” Zeph said.  “And,” he added, “in your photo you can see that there is that creamy white above and creamy white below. That’s a classic red-tailed hawk.”

For the first year the tails on their backs are brown. “After their first year they get their complete adult plumage. Then, the back of their tails turn a deep brick-red color,” he said.

About 78 pairs have been sighted in the city, Zeph estimates. The most famous hawk is Pale Male, who, of course, lives on a pricey Manhattan high-rise.  “They are fairly common around New York City now.  A number of years ago, the first pairs started returning to the city. Their young were being raised in the city,” he said, adding, “city life became imprinted on them.” Many generations live here now.

Young hawk looking to the right

Few things are as cool as the view from up here

Red-tailed hawks live about 21 years. They grow to be 26-inches tall and have a wing span that is between 38 to 43 inches.  These birds of prey grow to become sharp-eyed efficient hunters with large razor-sharp talons that can grasp and pierce their prey. They possess equally sharp hooked beaks that can rip prey apart. These raptors love to eat squirrels, “and you’ve got a few of those in the city,” Zeph said. Red-tails also love rats and mice. The Bronx has quite a few of those to snack on as well. Pigeons, oddly enough, aren’t among their first choice. “Not because they don’t like them, but because they aren’t fast enough to easily catch them,” Zeph said.  A flying bird is a harder catch for red-tails. The more agile falcon is better at catching birds in the air, he said.

This marks my third sighting of a red-tailed hawk, twice on my balcony, and once on the ground in front of a neighboring high-rise. That day, despite his large size, very few people took notice of him. In fact, he kind of reminded me of some teenager, hanging around a building waiting for his girlfriend.  It was only after a small group of people moved in, cell phones at the ready for a close-up, did the hawk fly away.

May this young red-tailed hawk always have good flying and a comfortable nest.

Still, I kept wondering why the hawk returned to my place. “It might be a very attractive roost site, especially for young birds,” Zeph said.  They are still learning how to hunt. They have not developed all their skills and need big areas to provide landing platforms, he explained.

Zeph also speculated that because of the bird’s markings, this red-tailed hawk must be a recent fledgling.  “Once they leave the nest they never return to it, he said.  “Instead they hang around their parents, and they look for places in the general area that is easy to land on as they develop their muscles.”

That means that this red-tailed hawk is probably a fledgling from an active nest.  Could anything be done to attract the hawk to my place more often, I wondered.  Zeph assured me that short of hanging live mice from the balcony, nothing would entice a bird of prey to visit.

But once a red-tailed hawk lands nearby three qualities are needed to make the bird stay for a while:

  • Patience – To get the best picture and to be around such wildlife in general.
  • Tolerance – They are huge commanding birds. They need their space, and, oh, yes, their droppings make a big mess.
  • A Quiet Spirit– They landed to rest and survey the area. Give them peace. Enjoy the hawk whenever the raptor is near.

    Red-tailed Hawk

    While moving the screen he gave me a harsh glare.

The End