Raptor Notes

Saint Michael’s curious tower continues to be a lively raptor center. On a recent morning, I noticed a black bird diving up and down around a corner of the tower’s base. The glasses revealed a crow dive-bombing a perched Red-tailed Hawk. The big buteo looked cumbersome in comparison to the sleek corvid. It’s worth nothing that the crow was by itself — they usually work in extended family units. When harried, hawks usually take the path of least resistance, flying away from the bother and (I presume) racket; this one launched off the steeple, and then suddenly a little boomerang-shaped bird made a steeply angled dive at it. This was one of the little falcons, either a Kestrel or a Merlin; I was too far away to be definite, but I’d vote Kestrel because I’ve seen them take on much larger birds numerous times. And then I notched a larger, curved-wing bird appear, coming into the frame. A Peregrine! Three species of raptor in one binocular view. All four birds disappeared as the hawk went low — a row of London Planes mostly obscures the central part of the tower. In a moment, though, the Peregrine was up there on the cross-top surveying its kingdom.
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Sometime later another raptor caught my eye through the window: I hardly got a look at it, but enough to guess Sharp-shinned Hawk. Several hours later, I’d finally gotten outside, and lo and behold a Cooper’s Hawk flew into a huge bare oak in Prospect Park. We walked right under it on our way to the Painted Bunting.

Five species of raptor in Brooklyn on a single day, four without leaving the apartment, is pretty good. It so happens that the day before, Brooklyn’s (Kings County’s) Christmas Bird Count took place, day-long and involving dozens of spotters, tallying these raptors: 1 Bald Eagle, 11 Northern Harriers, 5 Sharp-shinned, 8 Cooper’s, 2 Red-shouldered, 18 Red-tailed, 5 Kestrel, 5 Merlin, 4 Peregrine. The Harriers and Red-Shouldered are less likely to be right over the city, preferring edgy grassland terrain. Not nearly cold enough for any Rough-legged Hawks, evidently.

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