Hawk not feathered friend to pigeons

Hawk not feathered friend to pigeons

CHAMPAIGN – It's raining pigeons downtown.

What appears to be a red-tailed hawk that likes to hunt pigeons – but doesn't always eat them – has deposited several victims in downtown Champaign parking lots for the past week.

A favorite perch is the northwest corner of the five-story One Main Building.

One Main's Cynthia Faullin, who is selling and leasing out its condos, thinks Hawky is an "awesome" new resident.

"The more pigeons he kills, the better, as far as I can see," she said Thursday. "It's neat that we've got a little stowaway. I saw him perched on a chimney and the first thing I thought, pigeons better watch out!"

Some join the hawk in considering pigeon a delicacy; others consider them "rats with wings." One thing is certain: The hawk likes to kill them.

The parking lot immediately north of The News-Gazette at 15 Main has had several pigeon corpses gracing it in the last few days, all looking untouched by the raptor.

Steve Amundsen, a scientist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, says it's not surprising that the hawk leaves its prey uneaten ... for now.

"It's saving them for later, for a more suitable time to dine," he said.

It's his guess that the hawk is migrating south.

"The red-tailed hawk is not normally a city bird. I don't think it'll stay around long," he said.

Faullin, who has a strong interest in raptors, and the scientist agree that the hawks are not extremely unusual in the area, even though they're country cousins.

Amundsen says they like wide-open spaces, like cemeteries, where their view of prey is unimpeded, and not too many humans are disturbing the wildlife.

Faullin has seen raptors hang around the edge of interstates, knowing that if they chase a rodent, it probably won't dare to run into traffic.

Amundsen said the red-tailed bird is about the biggest hawk we'll see around here. It has an average wingspan of 50 inches, enough to give a pigeon a heart attack.

The hawk's favorite morsels are rodents, small birds, large insects and snakes.

"It's opportunistic," Amundsen said. "It will eat whatever's there."

But not shoppers, he hastened to add.

However, he said, if you're a cat, the threat level is set at red.

The bird tends to stay in its territory, which can be large, and in one nest, the scientist said.

It could well be alone, Amundsen said, because "it's way past any breeding season; that's early in the spring."

Not all red-tailed hawks are migratory, and the bird could choose to stay in pigeon-rich downtown Champaign, he added.

Faullin calls the bird "a rogue hawk" and says she'd be delighted if it chose to stay.

You can reach Paul Wood at (217) 351-5203 or via e-mail at pwood@news-gazette.com.

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