Neighbors taking up residence around metro Detroit are attracting attention mixed with awe and intimidation.
With increased frequency, keen-eyed hawks are finding city and suburban neighborhoods that meet with their liking, especially pleasantly overgrown vacant lots and concrete that make it easy to spy skittering prey.
Area birdwatchers are noticing slender Cooper’s hawks in summer and winter, says Julie Craves, supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at U-M Dearborn. Also, the impressively large red-tailed hawk is hanging out along area highways, Craves notes.
“Both species prey on rodents and small birds, which are present in numbers in the city landscape,” Jonathan Lutz, executive director of the Michigan Audubon Society, explains. “Both species are capable of hunting and taking prey in urban settings such as city parks, roadside right-of-ways, and even backyard bird-feeding stations, in the case of the Cooper’s hawk.”
Metro Detroit also attracts hawks because its open habitats have many nest and perch sites. “Big stretches of vacant land that’s being reclaimed by nature — the “urban prairie” — is quite similar to the natural habitats that they evolved in,” Craves says. According to Detroit River Hawk Watch, the Cooper’s hawks population was 47 percent above the previous 13-year mean at Lake Erie Metropark. An increase in a top-predator population is a “positive indicator of ecosystem health,” Craves says.
Some worry their pet could become part of that ecosystem. But Dr. James A. Mangner, of Gasow Veterinary Hospital in Birmingham, says, “It’s very rare for [hawks] to go after a dog or cat.” As a precaution, however, he suggests not letting your Chihuahua wander around the yard untended. Of greater concern in some areas, he says, are coyotes.
Another bird of prey being seen increasingly in metro Detroit is the bald eagle. The majestic national bird has at least five active nest sites in Wayne County and a few more around the Detroit River on the Canadian side. “Bald eagles have done very well, especially in southern Michigan in the last 20 years,” Craves says. The Detroit River Hawk Watch has seen a 70-percent increase in sightings of the bird in 2011 compared to the previous 13-year mean.
The even larger turkey vulture is also more visible, Mangner says. “They have a wingspan of 6 or 7 feet and they stand 3 to 4 feet,” he says. “We’re seeing them in Royal Oak and Birmingham.” No need to fret about their hunting habits, however. Mangner says vultures go for carrion and can “smell something dead for six miles.”