Red-tail Eats Lunch in Riverside Park

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.

On last year’s Harlem Hawk Walk with James of The Origin of Species, I learned to pay attention to unusual bumps on water towers, antennae and chimneys.

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.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2010, 2011, Birds, December, Hawks, In the City, January, Riverside Park, Squirrels, Wildlife/Natural History, Winter

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10 Comments on “Red-tail Eats Lunch in Riverside Park”

  1. […] Today was a two hawk day. In the morning, I saw a hawk perched on a branch inside the park at 108th Street, and this afternoon, I saw one circling high over Riverside Drive and 114th Street. I can only hope I’ll have another opportunity for a close-up view, like the one I had last January, of a juvenile red-tail dining on squirrel. […]

  2. […] a few weeks ago, I posted a story with several close-up shots of a juvenile red-tail lunching on squirrel inside the park. […]

  3. Literary Dog Says:

    Wonderful post! The utensils made me laugh. Due to the weather I have been hibernating. Thanks for braving the elements to capture this story.

  4. Kate Long Says:

    Magnificent animal!

  5. p hoey Says:

    Fascinating for those of us who intensely dislike predatory people yet
    admire predatory birds. The photos are great–from the starling sussing
    out the neighborhood to the hawk in the tree watching (but not moving in on) his hawk-colleague’s tasty lunch.
    Keep on gazing– the results are a treat.

  6. John Mead Says:

    Great story! I am surprised to see Red Tails in NYC, but that is encouraging. Seems the pigeons may have taught them about people and not to let humans bother them too much…LOL

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BallerinaX. BallerinaX said: RT @Wildlife_of_NYC: Up close & personal w/a NYC red-tailed hawk. New blog post: Red-tail Eats Lunch in Riverside Park: […]

  8. daddy0 Says:

    Your eye grows ever keener. What a joy.

  9. Barbara Says:

    Wonderful story – I had no idea that red tails would inhabit a city as big as NYC – but on the other hand they hover above and sit on light standards along the highways that circle and cross through Toronto which, though not as big as New York is big enough… hawks are remarkable creatures…thanks for letting us know also how to spot birds in an urban landscape – and loved your surprise ending!

  10. Charlotte Says:

    Hmmm, any toothpicks left behind? Love the photos. In one the red-tail looks like it has green eyes, can that be? Especially love the (late afternoon?) shot from your window, with the lone starling.

    The other day i was walking and found some white fur in two shallow holes in the ground, perhaps what was left of an animal, but what kind?

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