Lord of all it surveys

Buteo jamaicensisA familiar silhouette. This Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) was on a mound of dirt and rubble near Pier 3 in Brooklyn Bridge Park’s still under-construction section the other day.

As with all things, the more you practice, the better you get, and in this context it is looking and identifying birds. The raptors can be difficult because they are usually fast-moving and distant. This perched one allows us to study it even without binoculars. Even in this shot, you can see the faint pattern of light-colored feathers on the bird’s back. None of our other Buteo, or soaring hawks, have this pattern. Other Buteo species like Red-shouldered and Broad-winged hawks would be quite unusual, but not impossible, in our region, so a process of elimination is also helpful.Buteo jamaicensisAnother angle, with Lower Manhattan in telephoto distortion. The red tail can just be glimpsed here — it’s really more of a russet color even in glorious sunlight. This is tricky, since Red-tailed hawks born this year wouldn’t have their mature red tail feathers in yet, but this bird is at least a year and a half old. This also means that the bird is breeding age. Now you can see that sprinkling of white on the wings better. Red-tails have a characteristic, roughly-V shaped pattern on the back. Note also the length of the tail. If this were a Cooper’s hawk, which is another regional raptor possibility, the tail would be proportionally longer even though the Cooper’s, an Accipter, is a smaller/slenderer bird.Buteo jamaicensisThe bright white chest and streaked belly are also good signs of Red-tailed hawk-ness. (That said, there’s a lot of variation among Red-tailed hawks across the country; Central Park celebrity “Pale Male” is so called because he is particularly… pale.)

This bird was around for at least an hour. As I was taking the first two shots from ground level, a passerby told me she had seen the bird earlier near Pier 1. The third shot was taken at least a half hour later from the Promenade. From up there, I watched the bird fly to this perch from a pile of stone; from above the red-tail was plain as day. I’m guessing that the disruption of construction and general all round harbor-side location mean there are rats here. Rats love harbors, the Norway is also know as the Wharf rat, and big raptors love rats. (And who doesn’t love Ratso?)

10 Responses to “Lord of all it surveys”


  1. 1 Out Walking the Dog December 23, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Love that last shot of the bird (chopper) behind the bird. And yes, I agree that area promises great ratting.

  2. 3 Elizabeth December 23, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Great views – wonder how many of the other passersby noticed the bird.

    • 4 mthew December 23, 2012 at 11:29 am

      I spoke to one, at least, who had seen the bird earlier, and when it was flying, rather low to the ground later, I hope it wasn’t missed by others. Meanwhile, sometimes I think I should wear a sign that says “Ask me what I’m looking at.”

  3. 6 Elizabeth December 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    I’m always surprised (you’d think I’d be used to it by now) by how oblivious people are to what’s going on around them. Unless the hawk lands on the sidewalk in front of them to eat its pigeon, as happened recently on Henry St. in Brooklyn Heights, they are completely unaware of its presence.

  4. 8 Gillian December 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    We seem to be having an influx of Red-tails here in Ottawa recently. I counted seven in a small agricultural area yesterday where there was only one on December 1st when I was looking for birds for my winter list. Another birder counted 13 yesterday, so they are either moving through or setting up winter territories! I look at each one carefully in case it’s a Rough-legged Hawk, one of our regular winter visitors and another spectacular buteo.

    • 9 mthew December 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      Perhaps it’s also been an exceptionally good year or two for Red-tails. The Rough-legged Hawk remains elusive to me, and Brooklyn is definitely not its habitat. But one never knows. A couple years ago, a juvenile Northern Goshawk spent several days in Prospect Park.


  1. 1 Red-tailed Hawk on Riverside Drive « Out walking the dog Trackback on December 23, 2012 at 9:14 am

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