Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Red-tails Nesting on Capitol Hill

In the midst of a bird breeding season several years ago, I noted a disparity between the New York and Washington birding scenes. New York has multiple pairs of Red-tailed Hawks nesting in prominent locations – most notably Pale Male and Lola on Fifth Avenue. Their nests are ably monitored by local blogs such as City Birder, Urban Hawks, Pale Male Irregulars, and Origin of Species. At the time I knew of no red-tail nests in DC and no blogs devoted to following the nests of red-tails (or other urban raptors, for that matter). Whether that was due to a lack of such nests or cultural differences between birders in the two cities was unclear to me. Now at least one part of that needs to be revised.

A pair of Red-tailed Hawks has taken up residence at the House Rayburn Office Building and built a nest on one of its ledges. My friend Peter Vankevich heard about and photographed the hawks at their nest site in April. This morning the Washington Post featured an interview with Peter at the nest site.

Peter Vankevich heard about the birds a few weeks ago, a pair of red-tailed hawks that had made their nest in the pediment above the entrance to the Rayburn House Office Building, right under the watchful eye of a carved stone eagle. As the author of a monthly bird-watching column in the Hill Rag, he hustled over to see them.

On this particular weekday morning, Peter has his bazooka-like camera lens trained on the nest, only the edge of which is visible from Independence Avenue. He's not sure we'll see the hawks today.

"It's a bit like fishing," he says of birding. The fish aren't biting.
Peter also wrote about the hawk nest in the June 2009 edition of the Hill Rag. This appears to be a late breeding attempt since the hawks were observed carrying sticks to the nest in May; most red-tails commence breeding in March or early April. No chicks or eggs are visible from street level, so it is difficult to tell the status of the nest. Red-tails usually incubate their eggs for 30-35 days, and chicks remain in the nest for about 45 days before fledging.

As far as I know, this is the first time Red-tailed Hawks have attempted nesting near the Capitol. I hope that the nest is successful and that the pair returns for future nesting seasons.

I have included a few of Peter's photographs of the hawks in this post. Click through to see larger versions.