Cat Scan

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Red-tailed Hawks: or, I get an unexpected visitor

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By Cat Viglienzoni — November 26, 2011

Picture the scene: a 19-year-old college student spending a cold wintry morning in her dorm room on the Emerson College campus, sitting at a desk writing a paper. She looks up  — and large puffy bird of prey is staring in through the window at her. Eleven stories up overlooking the Boston Common, above the corner of one of the busiest, noisiest intersections in the city (or at least it seems that way when you live there).

Watching me write a lit paper.

It was probably one of the more impressive surprises of my college experience back in 2009. Fortunately, my feathered friend stuck around long enough for me to snap some pretty good pictures, and take a (admittedly poor quality) video before it soared off to perch somewhere else.

I was going through my computer the other day and happened to come across this, so I thought I’d share.

I had a family member who is a bird enthusiast identify it for me. It’s an eastern subspecies of the red-tailed hawk. My suitemate had thought it might be a baby because it was really puffy, but it appears to be an adult, given the color of its iris and tail. Red-tailed hawks are very opportunistic and are known to frequent metropolitan areas where parks and pigeons converge. Which explains what it was doing on the edge of the Boston Common, which is rife with pigeons, squirrels, and the like.

Looking majestically down at the corner of Boylston and Tremont streets.

It’s not uncommon to see red-tailed hawks. National Geographic says it’s the most common hawk in North America, and it’s also found in Central America and the West Indies. It’s a carnivorous bird, and monogamous — sometimes they mate for life (aww!). In the wild, it can live about 21 years. They’re large birds too, with a body of about 18 to 26 in (45 to 65 cm) and a wingspan of 38 to 43 in (1.1 to 1.3 m).

One site said it’s highly unlikely you will see this bird in your backyard… let alone on your windowsill with a mere inch of glass separating you from the bird. So that’s why I found it cool. So cool that I said it multiple times in the video I recorded:

Interestingly, despite the name, National Geographic says not all of the 14 subspecies of red-tailed hawks actually have red tails. The Cornell Lab of Orinthology says most are rich brown above and pale below, with a streaked belly and, on the wing underside, a dark bar between shoulder and wrist. It says the tail is usually pale below and cinnamon-red above, but in young birds it’s brown and banded. “Dark-phase” birds are all chocolate-brown with a warm red tail. “Rufous-phase” birds are reddish-brown on the chest with a dark belly.

Showing off its beautiful coloring.

It’s not my first time seeing a red-tailed hawk — at home in California, they’re a fairly frequent sight in the skies around my house. But this was far and away the closest I’ve ever been to one. I hope you are all as fortunate as me to encounter one of these hawks sometime — they’re an impressive sight.



Written by Cat Viglienzoni

November 26, 2011 at 9:28 PM

One Response

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  1. […] more on my previous experiences with hawks, check out the first of these two pieces and my up-close encounter with a red-tailed hawk in Boston my sophomore year of […]

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