The bird is back

New York, NY, USA

Red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

New York, New York, United States

Or, strictly speaking, not the bird, but a bird. Which is to say, not the same hawk that I saw last year, but a younger, fluffier member of the same family.

Like its predecessor, this one appears to have taken up residence in Tompkins Square Park. Like its predecessor, it appears to get no respect from the squirrels. While we watched, a rather scrappy-looking gray squirrel scrambled up onto the limb where the hawk was sitting, advanced to within perhaps six feet of the bird, and sat there, tail fluffed up, seemingly challenging the young hawk to make something of it. The hawk eyed the squirrel with a rather put-upon air, as if all this rodent disrespect was putting it in an embarrassing position, but it didn't move. Evidently it had decided that being taunted by the tree-rat was less humiliating than striking at it and possibly missing. The squirrel held its position for a few minutes more, then leaped away with a flick of its bushy tail.

I've seen this before. When the hawks are young, the squirrels will often run up to within a few feet of them. I don't know if it's a threat display, to try to get the hawk to move away, or if hawk-teasing is a popular extreme sport for squirrels. What I do know is that they only do it to the younger hawks, who are presumably not yet expert at snatching prey on the wing. The squirrels give older birds a much wider berth, while the sight of an adult landing on a nearby limb is enough to send whole tree-fulls of squirrels scurrying for cover.