Rounding a busy corner, during a visit to my old hometown of Brooklyn, I found a small group of people crowding the doorway to an office building and taking pictures on their phones.
As I approached, the building manager passed me, carrying a metal barricade of the kind used for crowd control.
I wedged my way close. This wouldn’t be a beggar, I knew, as those people are not noteworthy and most experence the opposite of attention.
The man installed the barricade across the doorway, trapping behind it the object of interest. It was a hawk, of all things, grounded (like me) in busy Brooklyn.
Hugging a corner beside the doorway, it glared back at us.
“Has anyone called the police?” someone asked, and the man nodded. In a New York instant — remarkable response time, considering — an officer arrived.
“Who do you call?” said someone. “Animal control?”
“We’ve got this,” the officer replied brusquely. He turned and strode back across the street to his squad car and returned with a roll of yellow tape.
The onlookers had left the hawk a respectable amount of personal space. It’s easy to zoom in on your phone’s camera, after all. And as we all know, it’s best not to approach wildlife, which can be dangerous.
Nonetheless the officer ran the crime–scene tape across the forward side of the barricade, further isolating the perpetrator from the crowd.
I bellied up to the building manager.
“How on earth does a hawk wind up here?” I asked.
“They’re all over the place,” he said. “They nest up there.” He pointed across the street and upwards, toward the ornate cupola at the top of Borough Hall.
“It’s a great place for them,” added a woman who stood behind him. “They have plenty to eat. Rats. Pigeons.”
“Pigeons?” I said.
“Oh, sure. It’s a great life for them,” replied the female variety of that prominent species, the New York Knowitall. “But I wonder why this young one got stuck here.”
“You think it’s young?” I said.
“Of course. Look at the size of those feet!”
It didn’t look so young to me. Just wary and puzzled. I did wonder how it came to be in this predicament. But in true New York City fashion, I felt myself too busy to stay any longer.
So I went on.
I was an Urban Bird myself for many decades, but I never saw a hawk soaring above Brooklyn as they soar across the valley near my home in Dubois. Maybe they’ve lost the urge to soar here, being that it’s as easy for them to swoop down and pick off a pigeon for dinner as would be for me to grab a ready-made meal at Union Market down the street.
I found myself musing about the odds that somehow this hawk would be transported to Dubois, just as I was not that long ago. Or as Game & Fish sometimes relocates a wayward bear up-mountain.
Or that it might just make the crazy decision to lift off and explore what lies to the west.
Not likely, I decided. It’s too difficult for Urban Birds to grasp the indescribable appeal of the vast and empty. And far too easy just to stay put here, where you can snatch ready meals.
High-rise buildings are springing up here, and the tiny playground where my daughter used to play is packed with toddlers.
The friendly city village that used to be my neighborhood is no more. Too many others have discovered its charms, and consequently those charms have diffused away into the noise, the bustle, the impersonality.
“Whenever you’re ready,” said the cashier at a sidewalk cafe, abruptly turning away when I took time to count out the exact change. There was no one else to serve; he was just irritated that I was not hurrying.
“So have you had a change of heart?” my husband asked when I returned to the table. “Would you like to have stayed?”
I noticed the license plate on a car parked by the curb. “FLEE,” it read.
“No,” I replied. “Not at all.”
© Lois Wingerson, 2019
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POSTSCRIPT: A neighbor from Dubois, and also my husband, have pointed out that this bird was not a hawk but a juvenile peregrine falcon. “They nest not only on cliffs in mountains,” the neighbor texted me, “but also in cities on bridges and skyscrapers.”
Google tells me that peregrine falcons can be found all over North America but mostly along the coasts. They perch high and dive rapidly to retrieve their prey, mostly smaller birds such as pigeons.
The Yellowstone website says that there are 36 known peregrine falcon breeding areas in the Greater Yellowstone region, where the falcons live from May through October before migrating south for the winter.
Hmm. Unlike us, they’re “snowbirds.” (We stay all year.)