Hawk Couple Takes Up Perch on Jamaica Fire Escape

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on March 29, 2013 6:50am 

QUEENS — Seven years ago, when Thomas Crater looked through the bedroom window of his sixth-floor apartment in Jamaica, he saw a big bird sitting on his fire escape.

“At first I thought it was an owl,” he said.

The unusually large bird, which turned out to be a red-tailed hawk, was sitting and watching the surrounding buildings and streets from the rail on the top floor. The raptor must have liked the location and has continued coming back, keeping Crater company.

Last fall, the bird, now even bigger, found a mate and the pair hangs out on his fire escape on 164th Street, near 89th Avenue, about seven blocks from the popular Rufus King Park, where the hawks have also been spotted.

It’s a love-hate relationship, jokes Crater, who said he both admires and fears the birds. He watches them with a wary respect as they sit on his fire escape for up to an hour, searching for prey below.

“They are so majestic. The way they soar is unbelievable,” said Crater, a community activist who also publishes an occasional local newspaper The New York Page.

A former advertising executive, Crater has crusaded against graffiti at a Long Island Railroad station and been lauded for his accomplishments.

“Now I understand what it means to 'watch like a hawk.' They are just sitting there, looking around,” Crater said.

He recently named them Adam and Eve.

"It's nice for a couple," he said.

But Crater said that at times he is scared of the hawks, too. A few years ago, the hawk started pecking on his air-conditioner as if he was trying to get inside, he said.

Then a couple of weeks ago one of the birds also appeared to be trying to get into his apartment even though the window was closed.

“Now I always keep my windows closed," he said. "I used to go outside on my fire escape but I’m not going there anymore,” said Crater, who wouldn't specify his age but described himself as a "senior citizen."

 Thomas Crater at Rufus King Park
Thomas Crater at Rufus King Park
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

Crater suspects that the hawks are drawn to his windows because he previously fed doves and other birds from there.

Sometimes the raptors even hunt near the window, he said.

“One of them almost caught a pigeon,” he said.

Hawks, including Crater's feathered friends, also "look for food" at Rufus King Park, an 11-acre neighborhood park along Jamaica Avenue with many old, large trees.

“We know when they are around because other birds make themselves scarce,” said Roy Fox, a caretaker of Rufus King Manor, a historic building at the park where Rufus King once lived. “Or we just see lots of feathers on the ground.”

Marc Sanchez, a Queens ranger for the city Parks Department, said the birds outside Crater's window likely have a nest nearby, but probably not in the park.

The population of hawks in the city has been growing, Sanchez said.

“There is plenty of food for them,” he said. “As long as there are rats, squirrels and other birds, they are going to stay.”

Sanchez said hawks have many nests in Queens. There is one in the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and another one underneath the bridge in Astoria Park on 21st Street and Hoyt Avenue.

There are also nests at St. Michael's Playground in Woodside and in Roy Wilkins Park in Jamaica.

As for the birds visiting Crater's window, he said he would certainly miss them if they stopped coming.

"But I know they will be back," he said.

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