Just a Theory

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Harlem Hawk

Three months into the Covid-19 Pandemic, I had barely left the apartment. But summer humidity splashed int our little apartment — and it became clear that outdoor spread is almost nonexistent — I started taking daily walks. I quickly expanded my range, delighted to find that one can walk from the south end of Central Park at 59th Street to the northern­most tip of Manhattan almost entirely in parks. It’s really quite stunning, and there’s so much to take in: architecture, views, rivers, flowers and trees, wildlife — the works. Those of you who follow my IG know.

On my jaunt through St. Nicholas Park yesterday, a branch shook vigorously ahead, alerting me to an unusual presence. As I approached, this keen stare greeted me, a mere 5-8m.

I don’t know what I expected to see, but it wasn’t this! I’ve heard that red-tailed hawks1 live in the trees or buildings of the nearby City College of New York, but I never saw one I could recognize, and certainly not this close. Turns out, red-tailed hawks are quite common residents of New York City, committed to pest control and delighting residents and visitors alike. Myself included.

This one, however, paid little attention to me. Rather, it seemed quite curious about this black squirrel running up a tree between us, about a meter away.

The squirrel kept running a loop up and down the tree. It would disappear from sight (mine, not the hawk’s), then reappear further down the trunk and scamper up again. The hawk seemed curious, amused, then, perhaps, bored.

Eventually I put my phone away and continued my walk, but kept thinking about this vignette. What story could one tell? Was the squirrel trying to protect its home by distracting the hawk? Was the hawk already well-sated, and now committed to satisfying its intellectual curiosity with a little naturalistic observation? Maybe the hawk and the squirrel were friends and neighbors, happy to enjoy a bit of camaraderie on a beautiful fall day in The City.

When I circled back an hour or so later, the hawk had moved across the path, and now was poking around in the ground cover. It saw me watching. Some ethno­graphy, perhaps?

Naw, it kept picking something up and shaking its head; a dragonfly or cricket I think, but couldn’t get close enough to tell. Could be it was hungry after all.

Either way, it made my day. Man I love this city.


  1. At least I think this is a red-tailed hawk. Though I see many bird watchers on my city schlepps, I myself am not one. Please do give me a holler if you happen to know just how mistaken I am. ↩︎

Harlem Park Steps