Fine-Feathered Foodies

They were there each morning in late winter, scattered along the Santa Monica Freeway, red-tailed hawks looking like Bauhaus Imperial statuary atop the stark light poles. What were they doing, peering intently down at the ivy, purple lantana and other moribund ground cover struggling to survive the exhaust fumes? And why was their presence so Hitchcockian in number?

Red-tails, it turns out, are the junk-food junkies of the raptor world, eating the rats, mice, lizards and even large insects that abound in strips of "nature" along the freeways. "It's the best open space around, which says something about L.A.," says Kimball Garrett, ornithology collections manager at the L.A. County Museum of Natural History. While they might prefer a nice open field in Thousand Oaks, it seems that red-tails, like McDonald's lovers, are never far from a meal, even in downtown L.A. Which may explain the two red-tails circling near Staples Center--it wasn't a visiting Anaheim Duck they were looking for.

Then, in early spring, the hawks were gone. Had our rats fled a sinking ship, taking the birds of prey with them? Not a chance, says Garrett, explaining that the temporary jump in population was more likely migratory hawks grabbing a snack as they passed through. L.A. does have a year-round hawk population, such as the red-tails nesting in the eucalyptus trees in Elysian Park. But it's also a favorite thoroughfare for birds passing through on their way to someplace else. Which sounds a lot like an L.A. story.

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