Black Snow and Nesting Red-tails

This morning, a stunningly beautiful, spring-like day popped out of a snowy winter.


The sky is blue and the snow is, well, black.

How does the pristine and elegant substance of a week ago …


… metamorphose into the dark, satanic mountain range of today?


When urban snow reaches this stage, it doesn’t even melt. My theory is that there are now more solid filth particles than there is water in this Substance formerly known as Snow. As most New Yorkers know, these mini-Himalayan ranges will diminish only to a point.  The remaining black metor-like blobs hang around long after the surrounding street snow has melted. A particularly notable example was a giant blob that threatened to become a permanent resident of 108th Street in 2010.

Today was a good day for hawk-spotting. Over on Morningside Drive, one of the Saint John the Divine red-tailed hawks perched above a saint near its picturesque nest before sailing west out of sight.

Last winter, daily hawk sightings led me to found New York City’s Hawk-A-Day Club. This year, fellow New York nature blogger, Matthew Wills of Backyard and Beyond, has seen peregrine falcons for five days straight in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. But my Morningside Heights sightings have been surprisingly scarce this winter.  So I was delighted to see a red-tail on the Cathedral.

The Cathedral nest, which has been occupied since 2006, undergoes renovation each year by the nesting pair. Last year was an especially active year of redecoration, albeit with some questionable design choices. Long, dangling pieces of string kept me worrying all season long that one or another member of the growing family would become entangled. (Look to the right below.)


But it was the sight last spring of a hawk wrestling with an unwieldy cardboard box or large paper bag that really led me to question the red-tail pair’s eye for design.Below the hawk flies toward the nest with its catch.


For more on hawk cardboard-wrestling, visit last year’s How to Build an Urban Hawk Nest.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the nest, along with my trusty walking companion, who would rather be scrounging for food. (Mysteriously fallen street strawberries don’t count, in his book.)


Next week I’ll once again have a camera that will allow me to take some more detailed shots than has been possible with the iPhone that has been my sole camera for the past six months.

That will be fun.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2014, Birds, Hawks, In the City, Seasons, Wildlife/Natural History, Winter

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10 Comments on “Black Snow and Nesting Red-tails”

  1. theresagreen Says:

    Who knew snow could pick up so much dirt? The idea of the hawk with the box is mystifying, what ever was it thinking? What luck you were there to see it too.

  2. mthew Says:

    Actually, those February strawberry-like products, with their hard white hearts, might even be more frightening than the snow.

    Keep your eyes on the sky. Mating raptors galore in the coming weeks!

    • Yes, February strawberries are a peculiar sight. As for mating raptors, I keep looking and hoping. I’ve been seeing my neighborhood hawks less frequently than in Februarys and Marches past.

  3. fojap Says:

    There’s a pair of red tailed hawks that fly by my window at almost the same hour every day, around two o’clock. I finally stopped taking pictures of them. I don’t know where they nest.

  4. virginiafair Says:

    ah yes, the black snow that was so much of my childhood. I can remember some winters when we were playing on those black mountains well into April. As for my present life up in Putnam County, even though it was in the 50’s today, I’ll be lucky if I see the asphalt of my driveway by May. I’m not exaggerating, take a look at my latest blog post

  5. Ha-ha! Soooo true on the black snow. Yuck. Love the hawk photos tool

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