Return to Riverside: Rats and Red-tails

With the return of autumn, Esau and I have returned to Riverside Park.

Riverside Drive Promenade

We indulged for months in a thrilling spring-into-summer fling with Morningside Park.

Lush Life: Early Summer in Morningside Park

New goose

Ma, I can fly!

All summer, Morningside’s little pond teemed with animal action. Goslings and ducklings hatched and grew. Bullfrogs, turtles and herons abounded.

Great white hunter

But lately I am again craving the sight of the Hudson River as it laps the long, green finger of Riverside Park.  Subject to powerful ocean tides, the Hudson sometimes runs south to the harbor and the ocean beyond as a river should, and other times it flows north past the George Washington Bridge, carrying its flotsam and jetsam up past the Bronx and the suburbs into the deep interior of the continent.

The river in a peaceful moment

Dazzle-me green

In summer, unless you descend to the lower paths, the park’s dense foliage blocks the river from view. But now that the leaves are thinning, the river calls to us even when we’re walking high above on Riverside Drive.

Yesterday morning, although I appeared to be walking briskly along the parkside of the Drive, I was actually light years away, tracking in my mind’s eye the actions of a young man – well, a fictional character, actually, in a project I’m working on.  A huge hawk, suddenly and silently soaring low past my shoulder, jolted me back into the miraculous common world.

The hawk put out its landing gear and seemed about to touch down on the retaining wall, but changed its mind, landing instead in a tree that grows from twenty feet below in the park.

Hawk in profile

After a minute or two, the bird – I believe it was a juvenile red-tail – moved to a new perch, a few yards south. A single feather poked up above its tail, like an admonishing finger


It looked around for a while, then again unfolded its big wings and dropped off its perch.

Through the leaves

It continued to head south from branch to branch, eventually dropping fully into the park to find a spot in the trees below, where we lost sight of it.

I haven’t seen a hawk in this part of Riverside for weeks.  What I have seen in dismaying numbers are rats.  Until this fall, I rarely saw rats along the park side of Riverside Drive. Now I see them every night, running shadows that snatch bits of food from unlined trash cans, pop in and out of holes in the walkway, trot along the top of the retaining wall, and zip through the sandboxes of the children’s playgrounds that dot the Drive.

Rats make a fine meal for a red-blooded red-tail.

Redtail Eating Rat by D. Bruce Yolton:

May the hawks dine in peace and plenty.

(I am not the only blogging park-lover to stray from a main squeeze.  In Brooklyn, a nature blogger abandons the charms of Prospect Park for a dalliance with lovely Green-wood Cemetery where red-tails, kestrels and merlins haunt and hunt among the graves.)

Note:  This post is part of I and the Bird #138, a regular birding blog carnival.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2010, Birds, Hawks, In the City, Morningside Park, November, NYC Parks, Riverside Park, Rodents (other than squirrels), Wildlife/Natural History

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7 Comments on “Return to Riverside: Rats and Red-tails”

  1. Dawn Fine Says:

    I have been enjoying your blog..just passed NY in NJ now headed south to NC and south for the winter.
    Happy Birding in the Big Apple!

  2. Edith Says:

    Melissa, I love reading your wonderful blog.

  3. Bill Says:

    It would take a lot of red tails to eat all those rats. Rats are such opportunistic critters. They give me the creeps, must be from childhood horror movies.

    I’m beginning to get a feel for the natural world in an urban setting. Very interesting. Thanks.

    • Thanks so much, Bill. I appreciate your virtual visits to the city. Yes, the rats far outnumber the hawks, They (the rats) are very much like us humans in their opportunism and adaptability, and wherever we colonize, they colonize with us. Seems to me the benefits of the inter-species relationship are all on their side, though.

  4. Charlotte Says:

    Dismaying, yes, to think about rats in a children’s sandbox, yuch. I hate to think that hawks are the city’s only rat control.

    Majestic image of hawk soaring overhead contemplating it’s next meal, while you contemplate your new project– may you contemplate in peace and plenty!

    • I see poison boxes around, but not in the park or a playground, of course. No natural predators besides the hawks – unless coyotes move in again, as they did last winter. Thank you for the lovely wish!

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