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Urban ecology…right here on campus! May 28, 2010

Posted by Dr. O in Behavior, Biology, Ecology, Environment/Conservation.
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So this is our resident, young, red-tailed hawk…

(Please click on pictures for better resolution)

Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

This young red-tailed hawk enjoys a very urban lifestyle on Marian University’s campus. I have watched this bird pick off fat, almost tame, squirrels as they exit a garbage can with the crust of a Subway sandwich. The hawk will narrowly, but deftly, miss flying into people’s heads as it goes in for the kill.

Today I arrived on campus, pulled into my parking spot, opened the door, and heard a ruckus of robins.

When I looked, I saw said hawk and thought, “hmm…guess the robins don’t like it roosting there”, but then when I looked closer, I realized that the hawk was IN THEIR NEST! As my jaw dropped the hawk took off with two fistfuls of nestling robins. The hawk flew to the nearest tree (where it perches above previously mentioned garbage can/squirrel haunt) and picked apart its breakfast. Amazing!

paranoid parent robin (left) and empty nest (right)

Red-tailed hawks don’t eat birds (usually), not small birds.

The hawk must’ve been watching and knew where this nest was. It’s not like it went after a fledgling not able to fly…it went INTO the nest to grab them! And the nest was fairly hidden! I think this is incredible urban behavior in a predator; not afraid of people, and exploring novel food items.

Here are two videos of the hawk eating the nestlings and of the adult robins guarding their, now empty, nest:

Here is a collection of play-by-play photos of the event:

Empty robin nest…the hawk had just taken off while I scrambled for my camera.

The hawk took off with two fistfuls of nestlings and landed on its favorite perch…20 yards away.

Red-tailed hawk eating nestling number one.

And onto nestling number 2…

Sometimes it’s a bird-eat-bird kinda’ world.

At this point, I’m under the branch and don’t have to use my zoom lens. This particular hawk isn’t scared of humans.

Note fluffy downy feathers. This was a nestling taken from the nest, not a fledgling that was on the ground.

Pin feathers are all that’s left.

More pin feathers found under now empty nest.

Pin feather

Now empty nest. As you can see, the nest is quite camouflaged from aerial predators, thus this young hawk must’ve been watching and waiting…knowing there was a nest full of tasty baby birds there.

The nest was a clutch of three. This nestling survived…luckily hawks only have two feet.  I did not return it to the nest, as it wasn’t necessarily a safe place. Parents are taking care of the baby on the ground.

Note large amount of bird poop. This is where the hawk hangs out. I’m sure it will be back to feed again on many urban creatures.