Urban raptors is not an oxymoron, as much as one might think of birds of prey belonging in habitat wild and open.
The Twin Cities metro area is home to several raptor species that live and breed here quite successfully. It’s easyfor us to see Bald Eagle, Osprey, Red-tailed, Cooper’s, and Red-shouldered hawks, Peregrine Falcons, and to a lesser extent several species of owl — Great Horned, Barred, Eastern screech, and Saw-whet.
There even is at least one Merlin pair nesting in a Minneapolis neighborhood. This is a northern-forest species, these individuals obviously comfortable with the boulevard elms that hold their nest.
Why these hunters have adapted so well to us and our lifestyles is explained in a new book entitled, appropriately, “Urban Raptors.”
This collection of essays has been edited by Clint W. Boal and Cheryl R. Dykstra. The book has been published by Island Press. Boal is a research biologist working with the U.S. Geological Survey and as a professor of wildlife at Texas Tech University. Dykstra serves as editor of The Journal of Raptor Research.
The book contains contributions from three Minnesota raptor experts: Lori Arendt, clinic manager of the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, Gail Buhl, education program manager at the center, and Dr. Patrick Redig, professor at UM and founder of the center.
Birds of prey have been our neighbors as long as we’ve had neighborhoods, essay authors say. Each species has particular needs met in the varied habitats that stretch from city center to the edges of the commute.
These raptor species must adapt to the change they make, from sparsely inhabited land to the shoulder-to-shoulder living style of city and suburb. Those we routinely see have done so very well.
Given the number of lakes and rivers in the Twin Cities it would be strange to not find eagles and ospreys. City pigeons are food for falcons. We readily see Red-tailed Hawks perched atop the power poles that line our highways, hunting rodents in the grass below.
Cooper’s Hawks are residential raiders, making a living on songbirds, in many cases the same birds we feed in our yards. Owls work the nightshift, replacing all of the above.
Nesting opportunities are here. We build boxes for our population of nesting falcons. The stick nests built by eagles and Ospreys line our rivers and dot the cities. I’m thinking of the eagle nest sharing a south Minneapolis lot with a tavern. Cooper’s Hawks have nested in yards on either side of ours in Orono.
My best screech-owl photos were taken near a nest location in southeast Minneapolis. Great-horned Owls compete with hawks for nests the latter have built. It’s another case of advantage to the early bird, the owls beginning their families well ahead of the hawks.
There are raptor/human conflicts, certainly, as the book points out. Cooper’s Hawks, for example, earn scoldings from people who disapprove of the hawk’s songbird diet. These hawks, though, provide a necessary balance to bird and mammal populations. That is a job well done by all of our raptor species, as the book explains.
There also is a safety factor for birds of prey living with us. Human interaction is less likely to be harmful than that in a rural area;, where raptors can be viewed as varmints. Even road kills seem to be fewer in cities.
The book examines all of this from a research point of view in easily accessible essays written by a range of raptor experts. They provide insight species by species for the raptors that have chosen to live next door to us.
The book comes from Island Press, a non-profit organization focusing on natural history, ecology, and conservation pertaining to environmental issues. It has headquarters in Washington D.C.
The book is part of the publisher’s science/ornithology series. It is soft bound, has 302 pages with index, and black and white photos. Brief biographies of contributors are included, a point of reference for readers seeking more information. The paperback edition is priced at $40, hardbound $80. Online, go to islandpress.org.