Friday, November 11, 2005

Hawks on the Mall

I walked along my end of the Mall late this afternoon. The sun was low in the sky and cast long shadows over the grass but also bathed the rows of elms in a golden light. The Capitol slowly turned from its daytime white to a twilight rose. Towards the middle of the Mall, a stage with red, white, and blue bunting was set up, presumably left over from Veteran's Day commemorations earlier in the day.

Though I had not brought binoculars along, I did note a few birds. The usual starlings and house sparrows were around, as well as a few robins (mainly near the Capitol). One flock of about fifty common grackles flew overhead, and a large contigent of mourning doves were picking something - either gravel or seeds - out of the protected sections. (Every winter the Park Sevice fences off a few sections of the Mall to rejuvenate the grass, which gets quite a beating in the summer.)

As I waited to cross one of the streets that cross the Mall, a red-tailed hawk glided past - almost at head level - and disappeared into the trees on the other side of the street. I walked over to that stand of elms but could not relocate it. Shortly after I saw a red-tailed hawk soaring high over the National Gallery. I am not sure if this was the same bird or a different one.

The National Mall tends to be a good place to spot hawks, especially the larger and more adaptable ones like the red-tailed hawk and the Cooper's hawk. Osprey and bald eagles will also turn up, though they are more likely to be seen down along the Potomac. But the Mall offers fine amenities for a raptor. Most of it consists of a big open field, and even the treed areas tend not to have much understory. This makes it easier for a hawk to find prey. And there is plenty of prey to be found. Eastern gray squirrels are ubiquitous and practically tame, making them easy targets. (I have had squirrels jump on the same bench and even on me when I eat lunch on the Mall or in nearby parks. They seem to have little fear.) Other rodents like rats and mice are also plentiful. There are plenty of "trash" birds that are attracted by the easy availability of leftover people food. Starlings are probably the most common of these.

The Cooper's hawk in the list below was seen earlier in the day, near Union Station.


Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
American Robin
European Starling
House Sparrow
Common Grackle