“The last thing I ever expected to happen in Pittsburgh!”

I do know what species this bird is, but I leave readers the fun of identifying it and telling others the traits that helped with the diagnosis.

The picture was taken by an undergrad at the University of Pittsburgh, Vanessa Coleman, and forwarded by her roommate, Lauren Valyo to her academic advisor, via whom it eventually reached me.  Here’s Vanessa’s story of the urban raptor:

I was cleaning up our apartment and decided to run the vacuum. As I was doing so, I happened to turn around and look at the window and I noticed this large bird sitting on the windowsill. I was so awe-struck that I immediately ran to my bedroom to grab my phone in order to take a picture of it. After I had gotten my phone, I slowly approached the side of the window in order to avoid scaring the bird. I snapped one quick picture but decided to try to get a better one from a closer spot. I walked right up to the window and the hawk just stared at me and allowed me to take the picture, however; there were snowflake clings on the window, so I wanted to clean them off to get a clearer picture. The bird watched me wipe off the window clings and only jerked its head back a bit, but still stayed put. It allowed me to take several more pictures, all looking directly into the lens of the camera. The hawk looking into the camera surprised me because many animals are disengaged or wary of allowing people to take pictures of them. I just stared at the hawk for about 15 minutes before I told my other roommate (not Lauren) about the bird. She came out  and took a picture of it but was very abrupt in her movements and I believe she scared the bird and it flew away after approximately 20 minutes on our windowsill. I think the bird would have stayed much longer if my other roommate had not scared it away.

It was a very cool experience, especially living in the city. It’s the last thing I ever expected to happen in Pittsburgh!

I told you to leave the key under the mat, dammit!

I told you to leave the key under the mat, dammit!

h/t: via Hempenstein and Laurel


  1. mordacious1
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I hear it’s been darn cold there, maybe he just wants in.

  2. gbjames
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink


  3. Paul Clapham
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Looks to me like the Eastern variety of the Red-tailed Hawk.

    • Spirula
      Posted January 27, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink


      • Posted January 27, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink


        • Bobbie James
          Posted January 27, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink


          • aspidoscelis
            Posted January 27, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink


            • ivarhusa
              Posted January 28, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

              I’d “sex”-ded the ID (RTH), but I can’t tell the gender.

    • Posted January 27, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Ah, the well-known film cliché …


    • lamacher
      Posted January 27, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Agree. Looks like ‘Big Red’ from Cornell.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 3:13 am | Permalink

      Latin names are the rule – this is WEIT after all! So is Buteo jamaicensis correct?

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 28, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink


        Tho, at least in the states, birds are one taxon for which common names were standardized, here by the American Ornithologists Union. So they’re far more reliable than most common names.

  4. Posted January 27, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Looks like a red tailed hawk to me. They have adapted really well to urban environments. The brown speckles on the front are a good indicator. I’ve also seen them poof up their feathers like this one seems to be doing, presumably to help keep warm in the cold weather.

  5. Posted January 27, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Yes, Red-tailed Hawk. The dark band across the breast gives it away.

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    That heavy looks annoyed. I reckon Vanessa & Lauren haven’t paid the rent…

    • Hempenstein
      Posted January 27, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink


  7. MadScientist
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Ah the story sounds familiar. Once I spent almost 2 hours stalking an animal to photograph it and just as I was about to get my photo someone ran up shouting “have you got that photo yet?” It’s no wonder hunters and wildlife photographers tend to be solitary creatures. That’s a great photo of the bird though. I imagine the bird’s sitting outside the window to catch some of the radiated heat.

    • ivarhusa
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Sadly for the bird, glass is rather opaque to infrared radiation. One of those darn ‘greenhouse effects’.

  8. Barney
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Pittsburgh has a long association with pictures of raptors on its high buildings – the Gulf Tower Peregrin Falcon Cam started in the late 90s: http://old.post-gazette.com/healthscience/20020504falcon4.asp

  9. Hempenstein
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I sorta suspected that this was a juvenile, but on looking at the RTH page on Wikipedia I learned that up to 3yrs their irises are yellow, turning to red-brown over 3-4yrs, so for the experts out there, are we looking at a mature specimen?

    Otherwise, the closest to one I’ve ever gotten is at the other end of one of the light poles that they frequent on the interstate heading into Pittsburgh. And out here my suburban wilderness (with a 22 acre hollow behind the house) I’m pretty sure I’ve had hawks having lunch on the roof (or maybe owls, when it’s dark). I think I have a RTH nest near the top of the big hemlock beside the house, too, but I’ve never had anything bigger than a sparrow on my windowsill.

    • SnowyOwl
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      This is a juvenile Redtail, hatched just last summer.
      [You’ve misinterpreted the Wiki info]

  10. acitta
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Here are some photos of a red-tailed hawk that I took a few years ago. I was able to walk to within 3 feet of it and it never flew away. https://plus.google.com/photos/116682824355827501844/albums/5148431947114484753

    • gbjames
      Posted January 27, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Was it injured in some way?

  11. Diane G.
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Cities concentrate hawk food nicely.

    Pigeons, gulls…

    • horrabin
      Posted January 27, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      Don’t forget rats. Red-tails love them mammals.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 27, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        Right! I was trying to remember what I was forgetting. Tho nocturnal mammals are probably less vulnerable? I’ve seen some pretty brazen rats, though.

        “The world is a veritable smorgasbord…”


  12. MaryL
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    In the park where I live, I once saw a red-tailed hawk raid a bird’s nest and fly away with one of the chicks. Incredible to see that in the wild.

    But, now… we have a Bald Eagle’s nest about a mile up the road. Look for bald eagle/NorthFortMyers if you want to see them.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 4:53 am | Permalink

      Get some photos then when they start nesting!

      • MaryL
        Posted January 28, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        There’s a web cam at the nest.

  13. marksolock
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  14. JBlilie
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    We have local redtails that fly over regularly and give that screeching cry that all the movies dub onto scenes with eagles in them. It’s a wonderful call of the wild.

    We also have plenty of Cooper’s hawks and ospreys. And sometimes bald eagles as well.

    Over the last few years, pairs of migrating Sandhill Cranes have started to stop off and stay (never seen any nests yet) in our local area all summer. Seeing a pair of cranes flying up your residential street, about 10-feet off the pavement, calling their crazy call, is really amazing.

    Our bird list, seen from our house ONLY, is three columns on letter-sized paper, single-spaced. I’ve never seen a place with more variety of birds. Many just pass through.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      “…seen from our house…”

      In which parts, if I may ask, do you live?

  15. Cheryl C
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Beautiful picture Vanessa!

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