Squirrels, pigeons and other morsels on notice
By Sabina Mollot
Being home to countless species of birds, not to mention squirrels that breed like rabbits, Stuyvesant Town is naturally a tempting hunting ground for local hawks.
Recently, a few residents shared their close encounters with the raptors on a local Facebook group. One was last month when a woman watched as a hawk devoured a pigeon on her air conditioner.
“It was pretty gruesome and awesome,” the witness, Jenny Dembrow, later told us, adding that her daughter wondered if the pigeon guts and feathers left behind would ever come off of the AC unit.
Last Monday, a hawk was spotted by a photographer in Peter Cooper, landing victoriously in a tree after capturing a squirrel.
For that observer, a newly moved in Shlomit Shalit, it was her first time seeing a hawk or a squirrel, since there aren’t any of either in her native Tel Aviv.
“When we saw the hawk we felt like we were in a National Geographic movie,” she said. “We couldn’t take our eyes off it. I love that we have this piece of nature here.”
Meanwhile according to one expert in Stuy Town, based on the residents’ photos, the hawks (or possibly the same one in both instances) are red tailed hawks.
The aforementioned expert (although she doesn’t think of herself that way), Anne Lazarus, leads occasional free bird walks throughout Stuyvesant Town and Stuyvesant Cove and participates in yearly bird species counts in the area. She also tries to rescue the injured birds she occasionally spots in the complex that become stunned after hitting windows.
And, as she informed us, hawks, in particular red-tails, have been high in the pecking order in this community. She, too, witnessed the Peter Cooper carnage, adding that the bird did in fact eat the whole thing. She also saw another hawk the day prior to being interviewed (Friday) sitting in a sweet-gum tree at First Avenue and 14th Street. “There are different hawks here,” said Lazarus, although mainly they’re red-tail. If someone isn’t sure what kind of hawk they’re looking it, a clue it’s a red tail is a long wing-span, and red-tails are bigger than some other species. The one she spotted most recently, she suspects is a sharp-shinned hawk, which is slightly smaller, with a long tail and short wings.
“They’ll eat chickadees and sparrows,” she said. Another local kind of hawk, a cooper’s hawk, “might be able to take a squirrel.” Yet another type of hawk, a buteo, is larger like a red-tail. “They’re a chunkier hawk, built like a rudder.” Lazarus has also spotted kestrel falcons at the Stuyvesant Cove, even once spotting a peregrine falcon flying overhead there.
For those hoping to spot a bird of prey in action, the odds are in their favor at the moment, since “you tend to see them more, not in the summer so much, but starting in November,” Lazarus said. “Some of them nest around Tompkins Square Park.” Those are the ones she suspects are now frequent fliers in ST/PCV.
She recalled how sharp-shinned and coopers would sometimes lurk around bird feeders in Peter Cooper Village, though she hasn’t seen any feeders in a while. She suspects there’s still a hawk around though based on other birds’ cagey behavior.
“Today the pigeons were hiding on a roof,” she noticed. “They seem very cautious.”
Another clue that there’s a hawk close by is when other birds become raucous. “If you see crows and bluejays yelling, they’re chasing a hawk,” said Lazarus. “They’ll go crazy and they’ll chase them but they’ll do it as a mob.”
She isn’t sure if hawks’ numbers have gone up or down locally in recent years, but expects humans will have more close encounters as birds lose their natural habitats, the forests. However, she fears for their safety and she definitely doesn’t recommend leaving out feeders with offerings of rodents or small birds.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said. “The best way to help the hawks would be to get rid of the rats without using poison. That poisons the hawks, pesticides.”
Additionally, she warned, like any other birds, they do occasionally fly into closed windows. “I see the Oval as a glass trap,” she said, referring to the glass walls of the Oval Amenities spaces. Along with natural habitat loss, “We’re going to lose our birds,” said Lazarus. “We are losing them.”
Still, the hawks at least don’t seem to need any assistance getting fed.
“A lot of them are having a ball eating the pigeons. The red-tails seem to be doing reasonably well,” Lazarus said. Having observed some pigeons become meals, the raptors, she said, have their stalking down to a formula. “They watch and figure out which ones are the most vulnerable. The immature ones run after everything and everything runs away.” Once, however, Lazarus spotted an immature hawk eating a rat. The hawk, upon noting Lazarus watching it dine from below, “clutched its rat to its bosom.”
Lazarus has been a bird-watcher, or “birder,” for the past 30 years. For those looking to get into birding, or at least hawk-watching, Lazarus said the best way to guarantee a hawk sighting is to go on scheduled bird watching events like those sometimes held at Hook Mountain in Rockland County or the Palisades, or even Central Park. However, if someone wants to stay at home, Lazarus just recommends investing in some binoculars.
“I think there’s a pretty good chance of seeing a red-tail,” she said. “Red-tails are pretty common.”
Would-be birders can also benefit from Lazarus’ guidance this weekend at the next bird walk, which is scheduled for Sunday, February 19. The group will meet, even in light rain, at Stuyvesant Cove Park, East 20th Street and the East River at 8:30 a.m. Binoculars are recommended if you have them, along with cameras. Participants can expect to find plenty of water birds like gulls and geese.
“We need to protect the birds,” said Lazarus. “The birds eat mosquitoes and they eat lots of them.”