Urban Wildlife Games: Hawk 1, Pigeon 0

Yesterday I noticed a group of people standing in a circle on Mission Street in downtown San Francisco. "One of our amusing drunken homeless people must have fallen over," I thought to myself. To my surprise, however, I poked my head through the circle to find a northern goshawk (at least I think that's what it was) tearing a pigeon to shreds in the middle of the sidewalk.


Apparently the hawk had swooped down only seconds before my arrival, snatched the pigeon, and was now totally content to spend the afternoon in the...

...middle of an extraordinarily busy San Francisco sidewalk, directly in front of the entrance to salesforce.com (a massive tech company) eating its meal. Businessmen and women, bicycle messengers, tourists, hipsters, and even two policemen stood by snapping Blackberry pictures of the raptor. I even overhead the policemen say that that they couldn't wait to include this in their weekly department newsletter.

Anyhoo, here are some pics a co-worker, Tammy Edlin, got with her camera and was kind enough to share with me. Is this a northern goshawk? Kind of looks like a northern harrier as well. It definitely did not have the distinctive red tail so I've ruled out the red tailed hawk. Either way, the whole thing was pretty sweet. Now, if I could see a bird of prey swoop down and snatch up a drunken homeless person. Booya!

I'm not sure what is more interesting here: the hawk eating the pigeon in the middle of the sidewalk; or the guy in the background simultaneously speaking on his Bluetooth headset while squatting down and taking a picture of the hawk eating the pigeon in the middle of the sidewalk.

Pigeon tastes just like chicken

Savvy Zooillogix readers will notice me in the background in the pink shirt, calling Andrew actually, to tell him what a loser he is.

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In downtown Orlando, the occasional raptor will make its presence known by feasting on the flying rats there. I've seen two while driving through downtown, it's quite a thrill.

And I saw some kind of owl in a very dramatic moment about several years ago-I was outside, late at night, looked up, it swooped down and was backlit by the streetlight. I could only see the shape and giant clawed feet. I got away with my face intact though.

I reiterate, quite a thrill!

Crazy! When I walk my dogs up at Bernal Heights Park in San Francisco I often see Hawks fighting with Crows for position on telephone poles and tree branches. The Crows swoop down, sometimes 2 at a time, trying to push the Hawks off their perch. If they manage that, an aerial battle ensues, which usually results in the Hawk wooping up.

If found this video on youtube of similar behavior: http://youtube.com/watch?v=Kw158QBNLQE

This reminds me of a couple years ago, I walked outside my house in the middle of summer to see a red-tailed hawk swoop down from the sky, hit my badminton net, struggle for a few seconds, then fly away. I have no idea what he was going after, but it was quite shocking.

I think it is a juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk. The markings and face are more consistent with that species. The red tail comes with age and successive molts. I'm not an experienced ornithologist or anything like that I just did some research on the web.

Watching this first hand was crazy. that bird was ripping the crap out of that peigon. I first saw this happening from the window in our office and then saw benny sprinting towards the crowd of people. the bird kept looking up at people as he ate but didnt seem scared at all despite the 500 camera phones pointed at him. we saw him again from out window today learking near by, i guess he caught on that the salesfoce peigons are some good eating!

By tammy edlin (not verified) on 10 Jan 2008 #permalink

I don't think this is a goshawk. Goshawks have these very mad-looking bright orange eyes -- very startling, and absolutely unmistakeable -- and in the top picture it looks more like a typical dark hawk eye.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 11 Jan 2008 #permalink

We had this happen in our front yard once; we heard a bang and crash and thought a bird had hit the front window, but when we went out front to check, their was a hawk eating a small bird it had just run to ground on our front walk. It was really pretty cool. It stayed a few minutes then flew off with the remains of its prize leaving just a few feathers behind.

Is the garuda bird big enough to lift your drunks? zoology news had an article 2 or 3 days ago: the garuda has been seen recently in India.

Maybe it was a Cooper's hawk? I'm not an expert in birds, either. See the link for pictures of Cooper's hawks on the UCLA campus.

On the nature shows when "Now, the inevitable must happen," I always root for the predator. Thanks for sharing these.


No to the poster who thought it might be a Cooper's Hawk. We have those; that ain't it.

I was really turned off by the gratuitously hateful comment about poor people in the original post.

By Ankhorite (not verified) on 16 Jan 2008 #permalink

Looks like a juvenile Red Tail to me. Much less exotic than a Goshawk, but still pretty cool to see one take down a pigeon.

I'm pretty much positive that it is not a red tail at this point. I have since seen about 12 of these hawks in Northern California in the last two weeks since we first saw this hawk in SF. They are often sitting on the side of the highway watching the ground intently (possibly for gophers? or some sort of insect?). Maybe not goshawks, but definitely NOT red tails. They have much darker feathers, a much squarer head, and no red tails (juvenile or not).

"Now, if I could see a bird of prey swoop down and snatch up a drunken homeless person. Booya! "

You absolute wanker!