Bwog’s resident ornithologist, Courtney Douds, spends inordinate amounts of her free time watching our unofficial campus mascot. Here’s what he’s been up to since he tore a pigeon to shreds during the greatest reading week entertainment since you got so sleepy you started seeing double.
You may have seen the large bird of prey around campus over the past few months; Bwog has dubbed him “Hawkmadinejad,” and as someone obsessed with raptors, I am one of his biggest fans. He is a juvenile red-tailed hawk. One can tell that he is still immature because he has not yet gotten the russet-red tail of his namesake, meaning that he is less than one year old. There is no way to tell the sex of red-tails from their feathers, but the males tend to be around 80% the size of the average female red-tailed hawk. Therefore the males are a bit faster and have a tighter turning radius, while the females have more bulk and power.
Immature red-tails are one of the two birds that apprentice falconers can use for hunting (the other is the American kestrel). They are incredibly hardy birds, and can survive in many different habitats. They catch prey from the size of beetles to jackrabbits, but ours gets mostly pigeons and squirrels. Though I haven’t seen him swoop down on any meals since he took out a pigeon in front of John Jay, I did find another kill zone. While loitering by Earl, I saw a large pile of pigeon feathers and a bloody bone in the center of the circle of feathers, a clear sign of our bird’s work.
While I have heard that Hawkmadinejad has been seen carrying around a squirrel carcass, I have only firsthand seen evidence of him eating pigeons. In fact, one sunny Sunday I watched him for two hours as he sat in the trees by Earl and Dodge in a prime position to snatch the squirrels scrambling below him. One squirrel chattered nervously on the tree opposite him, but Hawk kept still on his perch. You may have seen me that day. I was the crazy girl standing underneath him with my head craned back muttering at varying volumes, “Eat that! GET it! You can EAT that!” A falconer friend of mine proposed that he may not have been hungry, as there certainly is an abundance of prey on campus for him to have had his fill that day.
Another day, I saw him actually harassed by one of the squirrels. I know the little rodents are fairly bold with the students on the campus, but I was surprised when one faced him for a showdown on a thick branch of a tree by Dodge. Even more strangely, after the squirrel advanced threateningly towards Hawk, the bird stretched his wings out and backed up, then flew to a different perch. The squirrel won the standoff!
You may have heard the cacophony of crows cawing as they dive-bomb poor Hawkmadinejad. It is very common for crows and other smaller birds to harass red-tails to drive them out of their territory. In fact, sometimes falconers can use the din of the crows to find their bird if they cannot hear the bells attached to him.
Though the red-tailed hawk tends not to be aggressive, I did see it take a bolder stance defending its territory recently. While walking to Pupin, I saw two large birds perched in a tree by Havemeyer. The first was our Hawkmadinejad, and the other looked like a Cooper’s Hawk. Hawkmadinejad chased the impostor out of the first tree and it landed on another nearby, but our bird bullied him enough to drive him away from campus entirely. Fingers crossed that Hawkmadinejad’s namesake doesn’t take any lessons from this brave and bully bird.