Top 5 Myths about the East Village Red-tailed Hawks

Throughout our time blogging about these hawks, we’ve learned so many new things and we’ve heard a lot of stories – everyone has had some kind of experience with them.  But we have also heard a lot of people quite confidently spouting misinformation.  This is our attempt to break down some of that. 

Myth #1: They are not Red-tailed Hawks.

Actual quotes we have heard: 

  • “Those aren’t hawks, they are bald eagles!” 
  • “What is that Turkey doing on Avenue A?” 
  • “Dude, I saw you the other day with that Falcon!”

The birds that often rest on the top of the cross on the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer on East 3rd St. are, without a doubt, Red-tailed Hawks.

Red-tailed Hawks (RTH’s) are very common throughout North America, largely thanks to their adaptability.  That’s why they can thrive just as well on a mountain cliff as they can on an air conditioner. 

Myth #2: They cause the rat problem in Tompkins Square Park.

Tompkins Square Park has, in the past, limited or suspended rat poisoning during fledge season.  This is because RTH’s are a federally protected species. A good amount of the EV Red-tailed Hawks’ diet is rat (they also eat mice, squirrels, sparrows, starlings, and pigeons from what we’ve observed). While they probably make a decent dent in the rat population, especially feeding a family of five, the reality is that we humans are the reason rats are plentiful in the park.  They eat our garbage. And unfortunately, we often make it easier for them by littering.  That’s why the city has installed those rat-proof, solar-powered garbage cans.  So, the best way to shrink the rat population wouldn’t be to drop tons and tons of poison around or to bring in 100 Red-tailed Hawks (even though that would be something to see), it’s actually just to throw our trash in a covered garbage can!  If only we could all be as smart as this crow.  If you want to learn more amazing facts about rats, check out Robert Sullivan’s book, “Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants”.

Myth #3: They nest in Tompkins Square Park.

Nope, they nest near the park but not in it. Last year, they nested on the Christadora building but got kicked out because of building renovation.  This year, they nested on the 12th floor at Ageloff.  It is illegal to tamper with a nest, and Red-tailed Hawks like to nest in the same place year after year so, with luck, they’ll be back again on Ageloff next year.  For now, though, the nest remains empty.  

Why have these hawks chosen to nest on buildings rather than in the park? One factor is likely having a higher vantage point for the nest.  It’s easier to protect and also easier to see what’s going on from a building that’s taller than the highest tree in the park.  Urban ecologists believe that it’s also because the parents might have been raised on buildings. Guess you go with what you know! 

Myth #4: That’s not a baby!

When the Wayward Fledgling made a close encounter with people on 3rd St. last week, a lot of people didn’t believe that it was a mere 55 days old.  “It’s way too big!”  The good news is that we have been tracking every stage of these big babies’ growth and, while it has been astoundingly fast, we can assure you that these are the same birds.  The easiest way to tell the juveniles from the parents is their tail.  In young birds, the tail is barred, while in fully grown adults, it is a rusty red. 

Myth #5: These birds shouldn’t be in the city.  They have no place here. If you want to see wildlife, go to Jersey.

This is a real quote, and sadly we’ve heard versions of this more than once.  To you, we say: You should rethink this, my friends. When you really start to look around the city, past the taxis and buses, past the fast-moving flow of urban foot traffic, past your own phone, you start to see that there is already so much wildlife around you.  Cities are filled with all types of animals, including us, and we should all make an effort to understand that this is just as much their place as it is ours.

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