Regular encounters with Riverside’s red-tailed hawks have rung out the old year and are ringing in the new.
Winter’s bare branches make the birds easier to spot. And the truth is, Morningside Heights and Harlem teem with raptors. Look up and out as you stroll neighborhood parks and streets or along the river, and you may see red-tails, kestrels, peregrine falcons or even a bald eagle.
One morning in late December, I scanned the skies and building tops from my window for avian activity. Seagulls soared to and from the river, a flock of pigeons wheeled in and out of sight to the east, and a lone starling perched atop the school.
Binoculars revealed a large hawk on the right tower. After about 15 minutes, the bird opened its wings and soared east down a side street. It was probably a red-tail, but I couldn’t be sure. I still need up close and personal encounters to identify what I’m looking at.
Later in Riverside Park, a juvenile red-tail obliged.
I almost walked right by, but a raspy cry drew my attention to a tree branch by the path, where a perching hawk sat and watched … something..
I followed its gaze up the slope towards the retaining wall.
I tied Esau to a garbage can
and made my way slowly up the slope. The hawk did not seem to mind my presence.
It was intent on devouring a squirrel. The head was pretty much off the little mammal, but much of the body – and the beautiful bushy tail – remained intact.
I watched from a few yards away, while the first hawk watched from the tree branch.
The meal required a remarkable amount of effort. The hawk stood on the carcass to hold it down.
Then the bird tore and pulled with its powerful beak.
The next day, I returned to the spot to see if any signs of the meal remained. I once found a squirrel tail on the upper path and wondered how it came to be there. Now I think I know the answer. I expected to find bits of fur caught in the fallen leaves.
I did not expect to find … utensils.
Ah, the mysteries of the city.