The pigeons in Adams Morgan have been under attack by some bird of prey or other since at least last winter (“Pigeon Feed,” 1/31). Attempts to pinpoint the species of the attacker, however, had been thwarted by the difficulty of identifying a bird on the wingand by the fact that the pigeons in the neighborhood were too elusive to allow a predator to kill them in front of a reporter.
On Nov. 12, however, a dance between hunter and hunted finally came to a visible, and bloody, end. Outside the windows of the Washington City Paper offices, in an adjoining parking lot, a long-tailed brown hawk dispatched and ate a pigeon. The pigeon-flesh feast took place on the roof of a Ford minivan and lasted 15 or 20 minutes. Office Manager Liz Eckstein snapped photos.
“It was there for quite a while and didn’t really give a shit that we were taking pictures of it,” Eckstein says.
From the size and coloring, the predator appeared to be a juvenile Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii), which is sometimes referred to as the “chicken hawk.”
Examining the photos, Allison Busch of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory in San Francisco confirms the preliminary identification. “By the size of it…and the slightly rounded tail, I would also call it a Cooper’s hawk,” Busch writes.
Cooper’s hawks are born in the spring, and they trade their brown juvenile coloring for adult plumagebluish gray on the wings and back, rust-colored on the breastwhen they are a year old. The hawk on camera, then, had not yet been born when last winter’s attacks occurred. The bird or birds responsible for those attacks remain unknown.
More than two weeks after the slaying, the roof of the minivan still displayed a smear of dried gore, feathers, and a pigeon foot. Chris Mooney