I figured with the constant bad weather, I’d take a chance to share my observations on my home and commuting turf that stretches from Inman Square in Cambridge down to Lechmere. Starting when Daylight Savings ended this year, I realized a lot of my raptor watching time was going to be clipped due to darkness, so I started focusing on early hawk watching.
The focal hotspot of this stretch is around the Millers River Apartments tower, near the Twin City shopping plaza. A pretty regular flock of 75 to 100 pigeons can be found here most days - clearly thriving off the charity of the East Cambridge local humans. Starlings and sparrows are often present, and presumably a decent amount of rodents can be found behind the shopping plaza. In turn, a pretty regular group of hawks monitor this territory closely.
From April to June, I observed a Red-tailed Hawk pair produce three healthy fledglings from a nest on the old Millbrook Cold Storage building. Unfortunately, the old nest was removed as the building was sold and stripped to make way for a new apartment complex. Hopefully a new nest will be built in the area this coming spring!
Photos of nesting Red-tails and fledglings: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjWac8t2
This winter, the adult Red-tails were still regular visitors to the area - keeping an eye on the turf from a favorite perch on the Bell Tower at St. Anthony’s Church on Cambridge Street. I’ve seen them use various deceptive tactics to make runs at perched pigeons both high and low, even making short stoops between the porch levels of the apartments.
Adult Red-tailed Hawk:
While the adults are calculated and subtle in their tactics, the juvenile Red-tails in the area are much bolder but clumsier - often flushing the pigeons by flying straight at them. I haven’t seen them catch a pigeon yet, and they don’t incite anywhere near the full panic in the flock. They are still wonderful to watch and photograph!
Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk:
However, the more time I’ve spent watching this area, the more I saw the local Accipiters at work. I’ve never had the privilege to see Cooper’s Hawks so regularly and in such close quarters as this spot. Since November, I’ve photographed at least four individual Cooper’s Hawks - a pair of juveniles, and a pair of adults. The juveniles I can only differentiate by the apparent size, but the adults have different plumage and drastically different sizes. I’ve seen the adults share the same airspace and perches, so I assume them to be a mated pair.
The skinny adult male has a dark slaty-gray back and very bright, nearly solid-orange barring underneath, with orange eyes that aren’t quite the full deep red.
The adult female, however, is the most spectacular Coop I’ve ever seen. She is nearly Red-tail size, bulky and strong. Her undersides are much paler, a lighter rufous barring and a lighter head, pale throat, and just the hint of her dark cap coming in. Her eyes are just starting to go orange, so I assume she’s fairly young. Her combination of size and stunning plumage are magnificent. I’ve come across her a few times now, and she always stops me dead in my tracks. Truly a lovely, yet wicked queen of the Cambridge raptors!
Adult Male Cooper’s Hawk:
Adult Female Cooper’s Hawk:
Adult Male/Female Cooper’s Hawk comparison on same perch:
Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk (presumed female):
The Coops often keep hidden in the area, preferring inconspicuous perches deep in trees. However, they cause a tremendous eruption when they make a run on the feeding pigeons on the ground. The first sign is the explosive flush - dozens of wing sets clapping together as the pigeon flock gains altitude to try and flee. But trailing the formations, the Coop bursts through the air with devastating speed and agility. The hawk will usually single out an individual to target, and execute dazzling turns to try and make a catch. I have to say, the majority of times - the pigeons make an improbable escape. The frustrated Coop will continue to harass the flock as they circle upward and away, and rarely does the flock break formation.
Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk - Flight Sequence:
There have also been some other exciting visitors to the East Cambridge area this fall. I’ve seen a handful of passes from Peregrine Falcons - presumably the Kendall Square area birds. One November morning, I saw one of the trademark, breakneck Peregrine stoops from the top of the apartment hi-rise antenna. The falcon covered the 19 stories in a blink before barreling down Cambridge Street in pursuit of prey. Unreal!
Other one-off raptors have included a Sharp-shinned Hawk, an unexpected Northern Harrier flyover in early November, and even a curious American Kestrel - which I saw this morning before the snow!
All in all, I have been so excited to have this kind of consistent hawk action so close to home, and in such an unexpected, dense urban area. My favorite viewing spot would be the train tracks between Cambridge and Medford Street, where good views of the high perches and open sky are available. It’s a great spot if you have a little time in the area and a love of raptors - and a great reminder that incredible birding can be had where you least expect it!
Full set of all Mid-Cambridge raptors since November here: