Monday, January 24, 2011

Philadelphia Edition -- a Red-tailed Hawk in the City of Brotherly Love

I spent the weekend in Philadelphia. I visited the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Ben Franklin's house and grave, Betsy Ross' house and grave, City Hall, Penn's Landing, Christ Church,  and Elferth's Alley (which is the oldest continuously inhabited street in America).

Elferth's Alley. 

I was snapping shots of the statue below called "The Signer" -- he holds a scroll in one hand and a quill pen in the other -- when I noticed that bird perched in the tree above and to the left of the statue. The bird was holding something with its foot and pulling it apart with its beak.

The Signer in Signers Park, Old City, Philadelphia.

A closer look revealed a red-tailed hawk. It never got any closer so we have to settle for a glimpse. If I had arrived sooner I might have seen it swoop down from its perch to strike and kill whatever it was eating. Red-tailed hawks usually capture small mammals or birds.

A red-tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicensis.
Red-tailed hawks are common throughout North America where they occupy forests, fields, grasslands, desserts, mountains and cities. They seem to be unfazed by civilization; I have seen one perched on a street light in a traffic island at a busy intersection in New York City at rush hour.

They are big birds that can weigh over three pounds, measure over two feet long, and open their wings to span more than four feet. The red-tailed hawk's plumage color can vary but adults all have the famous reddish tail. The light colored underbelly is crossed by a band of vertical streaks. The bill is short, dark, and hooked. The legs and feet are yellow.

The bird I saw was eating quietly; if I had not been looking up I would not have seen it. But red-tails have a famous cry that is often heard overhead (even over the noise of New York City) and it is very often used in the soundtracks of television shows and movies -- a harsh screaming cry of Keeee-eee-ar.

Here is a YouTube link to a screaming red-tailed hawk:


  1. Hi, Julie

    I live in Philly and blog about the city's natural history. Red-tails are everywhere in Philly and the surrounding area. Bald Eagles have been nesting in the city the last three years or so. I have seen Kestrels, Ospreys and other birds of prey here, too.

    Thank you for blogging about the natural history of Philly. We probably try to do the same things, letting folks know about the urban animals that are their neighbors. I look forward to reading your book.

  2. Hi, Julie

    ps. Your book is already for sale on Amazon. Good luck with sales.

  3. Donna, Thanks! I had a wonderful time seeing the sights in Philadelphia, including the red-tailed hawk. Julie

  4. Beautiful shot of your bird in profile against the dormant buds. I scared a little sharp-shinned (or coopers?) hawk out of my hemlock tree yesterday, and downy feathers from its snack (sparrow?) drifted down onto my head. City hawks are a welcome and powerful reminder of the wild side!

  5. Thanks, Zoe. I agree there is nothing quite so exciting as seeing a hawk close by. Julie