Cooper's hawks were commonly detected in urban settings.
For most people, the office window is the last place to expect to see a giant bird of prey. But researchers at the University of Missouri say that could actually be a comfortable habitat for the feathered carnivores commonly known as raptors.
Like so many other species of birds and other wildlife, the forests and grasslands where raptors usually reside have disappeared. As a result, many varieties of raptor are endangered in the United States, including several hawks, the California condor, and two types of owl.
In research published in Urban Ecosystems, scientists with the MU College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources found that office parks might be a good replacement habitat for the birds. They traveled to several parks or clusters of buildings around St. Louis and surrounding counties, visually counting the number and type of raptors present, and playing raptor calls to tally responses from resident birds. They also looked at the amount and type of vegetation present in the office parks.
Researchers found that in the 155 sites they surveyed, there were nine different species of raptor present, including the red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, Cooper’s hawk, Mississippi kite, American kestrel, Peregrin falcon, Northern harrier, Sharp-shinned hawk, and even a bald eagle. Interestingly, the kite and the Red-shouldered hawk are known to inhabit urban environments, but were not among the most commonly detected species in the research. Those honors instead went to the kestrel, the Cooper’s hawk and the red-tailed hawk.
Even the study’s authors were a little surprised to discover the extent to which the raptors were undeterred by the presence of people, and in fact could be found in strong numbers across the survey area.
"I have been genuinely surprised through life at how close certain raptors can live to human civilization and activity,” said study author and MU graduate student Jonathan Hogg. "It tends to vary by species. Red-tailed hawks in particular are commonly found in urban areas, even near the crowded centers of cities.”
Hogg pointed out it’s also important to consider that deforestation and the increase in human population have been going on for so long that it’s difficult to distinguish the two from each other.
"Are golden eagles not typically found near civilization because they're sensitive to human activity, or do they require more and larger prey than is usually found in cities?” said Hogg. "Still, it wasn't too long ago that the Cooper's hawk was considered too shy to live in urban areas; I just saw one on a light post in a shopping center in my hometown a couple weeks ago.”
Secondly, and less surprisingly, there was a correlation between species’ presence in certain office parks and the degree to which the parks’ plant life resembled their original habitats either due to shelter needs or its ability to host prey populations. Hogg said the Cooper’s hawk originates from the forest and was found more in connection with environments with significant tree growth. The kestrel, by contrast, is accustomed to a more open environment, but does need a nesting spot. In the Midwest, some bird lovers construct nesting boxes for kestrels, which they do often accept as substitutes for their natural homes. Generally, the swap of open lawn with more natural, rugged grassland tends to encourage raptors to visit an area, since the grass could conceal small prey animals.
Conservation and environmental issues are becoming increasingly important to many businesses and governments, and Hogg believes a thoughtful approach to landscaping can help them coexist with raptors and other wildlife. Keeping a focus on native tree and grass specimens, rather than bulldozing everything in favor of a generic lawn. Previous research suggests that such an environment has a positive impact on employee morale, too—a 2007 paper from Landscape and Urban Planning stated that surveyed workers preferred a more prairie-like atmosphere, especially those conducive to walking trails, and even their impressions of parking lots were improved with the addition of a few plants.
Fortunately, Hogg said, landowners seem to be listening to findings like his.
"Anecdotally, I remember some of the business contacts that I went to for permission to study on their land were interested in my research and were avid watchers of the birds where they worked,” he said.
And after all, anything that’s good for the environment and employee morale is like preserving two birds with one stone, so to speak. (Or perhaps, the removal of one stone.)
What about you: would the addition of raptors and other wildlife change the way you feel about going to the office each morning?
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