As I performed increasingly laborious squat jumps as part of my twice weekly bootcamp at the McCarren Park track, my attention, as well as that of my cohorts, was increasingly drawn to the majestic red tail hawk who had perched itself nearby on top of the fence surrounding the handball courts. Moving on to graceful capoeira lunges, I turned to see it fly even lower to the ground, right next to the bocce ball area, which drew some paparazzi moments as you might expect, because there’s nothing as exciting as being that close to some bonafide New York City wildlife (except for certain species I can think of immediately).
Perhaps I was using the hawk to distract myself from rising levels of burning lactic acid, but to be honest, this family of raptors had been captivating my entire bootcamp crew for many weeks now. Every session started with a dutiful catch up on the latest in Hawk Land. We watched vigilantly as new babies were born and perched safely in their stadium floodlight nests and we observed what looked like parents freelancing for the Rat Tzar and flying between multiple floodlight nests, i.e the most fashionable/loftiest properties in Greenpoint.
To answer some of the pressing questions about these close, ground-level hawk encounters, I spoke with Katherine Chen, community science and outreach manager at New York City Audubon.
“In these earlier summer months, what you’re seeing is probably the young fledgling raptors […] which means that their young are starting to learn how to fly,” says Chen. Double-checking that this is not a ploy for possible social media influencing, Chen confirms that fledgling raptors spend time on the ground as a natural behavior in learning to fly as it functions to get them “accustomed to how they’re going to be hunting and getting around for the rest of their life.”
If you’ve ever witnessed this behavior and felt immediate concern (read: me with a hot finger on wildlife rescue speed dial), Chen shares that because these young hawks are pretty much the same size as adults, that can cause some confusion.
“Some people think that those birds are injured, but they’re not. Most of the time, they’re perfectly fine. Their parents are nearby and are continuing to feed them,” she says. In response to the question of how those who share this urban space should proceed around the baby raptors, Chen says, “If the bird seems healthy, it seems alert, it’s not lethargic, the bird is probably fine and humans should keep their distance.” She advises, “They are still raptors, so they have sharp talons. And also, you want to stay away so that the parents can keep watching over and don’t feel like there are any threats nearby that might come to harm them or their babies.”
In the hopefully rare case when a hawk does appear lethargic after lengthy observation, Chen says the culprit could be rodenticide which, since they feed on rats and mice, can get into their food supply and will require treatment. Still, she advises to not approach or touch the bird if injured or lethargic, but to simply keep an eye on the bird from a distance and contact either Urban Park Rangers (who additionally recommend calling “311”) or New York City Audubon.
At my most recent workout session, the youngsters appeared to have successfully fledged and have either taken over the lease of their parents’ floodlight pad or flown the coop. However, there’s no doubt that the McCarren Park hawks will continue to be an integral part of the community of Greenpoint and Williamsburg in one way or another, no matter the season, as they chill regally up in their lofty, rent-stabilized perches.