Here's something you might not expect to find on your car in central New York City: a red-tailed hawk casually enjoying a meal of pigeon.

Before we go further, it's worth nothing that despite its unusual colouration, this bird is in fact a red-tailed hawk. "It’s an immature bird – born this spring," explains Cascades Raptor Center director Louise Shimmel. "And it won’t have a red tail until next summer, after a full molt. Pretty amazing for a young bird to be able to catch a pigeon, though! Kudos to him or her!"

Bronx native Ernesto Robles was certainly taken aback by the scene on his car roof, but for its part, the hawk didn't seem to mind being watched as it tucked into its entrée – although the raptor did appear to attempt a stare-down at one point (perhaps as a warning to the New Yorker to back off and find his own pigeon to eat).

"I was absolutely gobsmacked," Robles told Caters News.

Though the setting the bird chose for its dining experience might be a little bit unusual, a hawk eating a pigeon in New York City is anything but. As humans increasingly move into urban environments, and as cities continue to grow and encroach on natural habitats, more and more animals find themselves adapting to the challlenges of urban living.

For red-tailed hawks and other birds of prey that wind up living in cities, urban environments do pose their own problems, but it's not all bad. There's a bounty of rats, mice and pigeons for the birds to eat, for example, as well as plenty of tall structures that can serve as roosts or hunting perches. On the other hand, rats and other rodents in cities are often exposed to rat poison, which can be lethal for the raptors that eat them. Vehicles and glass buildings can also turn out to be navigational hazards.

Luckily, the birds have quite a few human fans who lend a helping hand. In New York City, for example, many residents have fallen in love with a red-tailed hawk named Pale Male, a bird so popular that he even has his own website. The hawk first came to the attention of city dwellers 20 years ago, when he successfully raised his young in Manhattan, and since then, he's attracted a network of vigorous defenders against urban development nuisances. And it's not just about one hawk celebrity: entire websites dedicated to photographing and tracking the movements and behaviours of New York's raptors have sprung up, and traffic is sometimes brought to a halt to assist injured birds.

The affection isn't entirely one-sided, either. The birds have learned to tolerate their human neighbours, sometimes going so far as to join them for a balcony social visit. According to the New York Audubon Society, close encounters like this one are far from out of the ordinary.

"New York City's red-tailed hawks have become accustomed to human presence and will often roost on buildings or fire escapes for extended periods, particularly after a meal," the Audubon Society told the Gothamist, noting that many of the birds, especially the young ones raised in the city, are quite tame and allow humans to approach closely.

However, the Society also stresses that these are still wild animals. "It's a good idea to keep a distance so as not to alarm the birds."


Top header image: dogtooth77, Flickr