Rare Hawk Brings Thrills and Chills to Rego Park

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on February 10, 2014 6:49am 

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 A Cooper's hawk has been spotted in Rego Park.
Cooper's Hawk in Rego Park
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QUEENS — In early December, Pat Morgan went to the window of her Rego Park apartment, thinking she was seeing snow falling.

But she soon noticed that the falling objects were feathers instead.

“I wondered — did the squirrels get a hold of a pillow on a fire escape?” said Morgan, 56, a retiree who lives at 65th Avenue and 99th Street. “Then I heard a whoosh, thump and saw that wingspan.”

The feathers were not from a pillow, but from a bird being eaten by a rare hawk. After his meal, the raptor perched on a nearby tree.

Morgan said she grabbed her camera and took dozens of pictures “until I got the one of him looking right at me.”

“I was scared looking into those eyes because he seemed rather stern,” Morgan said. “He was beautiful.”

She sent her photos to New York City Audubon, where officials told her the bird was a Cooper's Hawk, a species seldom seen in this area.

“Of the raptors that nest in the city they are the rarest,” said Glenn Phillips, executive director of NYC Audubon.

Cooper’s Hawks can be recognized by their striped orange-and-white bellies and relatively long tail with dark bands. They are also smaller than the more common Red-tailed Hawks, Phillips said.

During Audubon's 2012 Christmas count, three Cooper’s Hawks were spotted in Queens, according to Phillips. During the same count, 21 Red-tailed Hawks were seen in the borough.

Cooper's Hawks usually live in forests, Phillips said. “Mostly they just migrate through the city, they don’t stop and breed,” he said, predicting that the Rego Park hawk will probably leave in another six to eight weeks.

Morgan said she sees the hawk, which she named Rego, about once a week.

Other residents had mixed reactions to their new neighbor.

Yvonne Cohn, a retiree who lives in the same building as Morgan, saw the hawk about two weeks ago when she was walking her dog.

“It went down, picked up a pigeon and peeled it,” she said. On her way back, she said, she saw a couple of bones and a pigeon’s head beneath the tree.

“I felt sorry for the bird, but that’s nature,” she said, adding that she was afraid the bird could attack her dog.

Phillips said that Cooper’s Hawks feed mainly on other smaller birds, unlike Red-tailed Hawks, which prefer squirrels and rats.

“I haven’t seen Mourning Doves recently,” said Morgan, who suspects they may have been the victims of Rego’s appetite. 

Rego, she said, can sit for hours almost without moving, which experts said it typical for Cooper's Hawks.

Phillips said Cooper's Hawks will eat almost an entire bird, including its bones, and then need time to digest their prey. During that time, “if they don’t have to fly, they don’t,” Phillips said.

Raptors, which are attracted to the city by the abundance of food, have been increasingly common in the area, residents said. According to New York City Audubon, there are hawks nesting in nearby Corona Park and a Peregrine Falcon living in the Lefrak City complex.

Steven Feldman, 23, a journalism student who lives at 64th Road and 99th Street in Rego Park, said he spotted a number of hawks in the neighborhood in the past year.

Last summer, he said, a Red-tailed Hawk landed on his air-conditioning unit “looking really intensely at my kitten.” Feldman said ever since then he has not allowed his cats to go out on the terrace.

“But I’m actually more fascinated with the hawks than I am scared of them,” he said. “If anything I would like to see more of them.”

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