Hawks becoming highway hunters in Austin area


Like many longtime Central Texas residents, red-tailed hawks have been adjusting to a new lifestyle in recent years. As the Austin area has urbanized, the rust-colored raptors that historically hunted in rural fields are now nesting in downtown buildings and divebombing along the highway.

Red-tailed hawks coexist well with humans; they famously nest in New York’s Central Park. Experts say the hawks are flourishing locally and have become more visible around Austin, especially this time of year, when the birds are building nests and laying eggs.

“They’re very adaptable to humans,” said Craig Farquhar of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “They can move in and set up shop in parks and neighborhoods. They’re pretty easy to get along with, for some reason.”

The hawks have become highway hunters, scooping up rats, mice and pigeons along MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1), Interstate 35 and U.S. 183.

“You see them on the light poles and so on because they’re able to hunt those grassy medians along the highway,” said Barry Lyon, a member of the Travis Audubon Society’s board of directors. “They’re after small rodents and will even take large insects.”

Ed Sones, who rehabilitates birds of prey, said highways aren’t always the safest place for them to hunt, however. The birds often don’t see the traffic when they’re focused on food.

“If they’re going after prey, they really get tunnel vision,” he said.

Sones is treating two red-tails at his home in Cedar Park, one of which was found along the highway in Round Rock. He said he treats about 10 red-tailed hawks a year. Many of the adults Sones treats have been hit by cars, but the younger birds he sees are usually picked up on sidewalks in downtown Austin.

“Downtown streets are not a good place to learn to fly,” Sones said.

Despite those dangers, hawks and humans have largely gotten along in Austin. Last year a couple of red-tails built a substantial nest in a tree just outside a parking garage at Capital Chevrolet, off I-35. The birds tried to come back this year — red-tailed hawks frequently return to the same spot to nest — but the heavy winds that hit earlier this month tore the nest down.

Why exactly the hawks have adapted so well isn’t known.

Sones said that Austin’s red-tailed hawks’ diets might have expanded. He’s heard reports of the raptors, which traditionally eat small mammals and landlocked birds, eating grackles — blackbirds that are a plentiful food source in Austin.

As the area has urbanized, humans’ views of the hawks have changed, Sones said. Farmers and ranchers historically shot at any hawk for fear it would feed on their chickens. Sones said red-tails were never really a problem, but they were frequently confused for Cooper’s hawks, which do eat other birds.

“They’ve just improved their image with people,” Sones said. “People think they’re magnificent, not vermin. I can’t think of a legitimate reason someone shouldn’t like them.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Central Health sets public hearing for Saturday on future of Sendero
Central Health sets public hearing for Saturday on future of Sendero

Central Health is continuing to weigh the future of its nonprofit insurance provider, Sendero Health Plans, and will hold a special meeting on Saturday, where members of the public will be allowed to speak. Travis County commissioners on Tuesday delayed voting on the health district’s proposed $258 million budget for fiscal ...
BREAKING: Austin man at center of 3D-printed gun debate faces sex assault charge
BREAKING: Austin man at center of 3D-printed gun debate faces sex assault charge

Cody Wilson, an Austin man whose fight over 3D-printed guns thrust him into the national spotlight, faces a charge of sexual assault, according to an arrest affidavit filed in Travis County district court on Wednesday. The affidavit said a counselor called Austin police on Aug. 22 to report that a girl under the age of 17 told her she had sex with...
She's the mayor, a great-grandma, and now a gator hunter
She's the mayor, a great-grandma, and now a gator hunter

When it comes to public safety, don’t mess with Nana. Especially when she is the mayor. >> Read more trending news  Judy B. Cochran, a gun-totin’ grandma who recently was elected mayor of Livingston, Texas, killed a 12-foot, 580-pound alligator Monday with one shot at her ranch along the Trinity River in nearby Goodrich, ...
Florida neighbors can't bear the sight of nude gardener
Florida neighbors can't bear the sight of nude gardener

Adam and Eve may have been naked in the Garden of Eden, but neighbors in a South Florida city are not happy about a nude gardener in their paradise. >> Read more trending news  Residents in a north Stuart neighborhood called the Martin County Sheriff’s Office to complain about a man who does yard work and walks around his property...
FORECAST: Sunshine, high of 92; rainy days ahead starting Thursday
FORECAST: Sunshine, high of 92; rainy days ahead starting Thursday

Wednesday forecast for Austin: This could be the last day we see sunshine in the metro area until early next week as a low pressure system from Mexico moves into Texas, bringing possibly heavy rainfall this weekend, the National Weather Service said. Temperatures could reach 94 degrees in Austin on Wednesday as the heat index value, or the &ldquo...
More Stories