Toronto social media users are this week extolling hawks for appearing en masse and publicly eating less lovable urban wildlife: pigeons.

Reddit and Twitter users have posted pictures of hawks swooping down on busy Toronto streets like Gerrard St. E. and College St., to devour the less fortunate birds that comprise their meals.

As one Reddit user put it: “Seriously I love anything that will get rid of the damn rats-with-wings,” lovingly referring to the predators as “skycats.”

Mark Peck, who looks after the ornithology and bird collections at the Royal Ontario Museum, said he too has noticed more hawks enjoying the city this week — hunting, nesting and trying to attract mates.

“The last few days with the warmer weather I’m seeing more and more birds doing courtship displays,” he said. “I think this warm weather has got everybody’s hormones going a little bit so the hawks are starting to think of the breeding system.”

Peck said both Cooper’s hawks and red-tailed hawks, historically forest and rural birds, have been “moving in” downtown for about two decades.

They choose Toronto, he said, because the city has a strong ravine system and bird feeders — ideal for predator birds to swoop down on smaller, prey while they feed.

This week was a bit unusual, Peck said, because it’s still early for hawks to nest in the city. Ample food and warm weather seem to have encouraged them to do just that.

While some of the favourite nesting spots are High Park and Queen’s Park, Peck has also seen birds nest on buildings — a surefire sign they’re adapting to the environment.

On his way to work this week, Peck noticed a red-tailed hawk had returned to a nest on an exterior air-conditioning unit near Bloor St. W. and Spadina Ave., which he has been observing for three years. He didn’t expect to see the nest occupied until mid- to late-March.

The fact that the hawks are adapting to city life, and are doing so in a way that is visible to humans is “all good news,” in Peck’s view.

“It allows people to see (nature) and engage with them,” Peck said.

In other words, the birds are saying, “Stop looking at your phone and look at the world around you.”

He added the hawks are nervous birds, and are unlikely to bother humans or their pets.

That doesn’t mean they’re shy about eating in front of humans though.

“Birds are getting more comfortable with people, so they’re eating them right in front of people these days,” Peck said.


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