Red-tail hawks invade the State Capitol

Huey's Hawks
Updated: Jul. 15, 2014 at 1:25 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Every morning at the Louisiana State Capitol, Lt. Fabian Brown of Dixon Correctional Institute takes a prison worker to the very top of the State Capitol building. It takes two elevators to get the the 27th floor. The first elevator goes to the 24th floor and then you transfer to a short-distance elevator to emerge on the level with the Capitol’s observation deck. Inmate Marlon Brown is the prisoner on observation deck duty this day. He scouts the circular walkway for trash and, well, carnage.

Marlon will tell you, “Sometimes you'll come up here, you'll find, like the head. Sometimes you'll find a body in another spot. Sometimes we see them flying around with a squirrel in their hands. I believe once we've seen a duck head.”

Donna Britt marvels, “Did he really say DUCK HEAD?”

Lt. Fabian Brown explains, “Most of the time, it  will be in the evening time. Or we might come up here and see the hawk sitting on top of the ledge lookin' down preying on small animals such as birds and stuff like that.”

They’re talking about the red-tail hawks which routinely hunt the Capitol Grounds. Coincidentally, the level above the observation deck where they like to scan the smorgasbord that is the Capitol grounds has eagles carved into the bricks and mortar.

It's also not unusual for them to dine sometimes on the observation deck where tourists dwell. That's why an inmate like Marlon is kept on standby at all times. Even lower on the building a state worker told Donna Britt he saw a hawk land on his window ledge and start eating a squirrel. On the Senate patio, Guard Master Sgt. Harold Ivey of DCI had squirming squirrel dropped from above. “On the patio here on the senate rooftop,” Ivey says, gesturing toward the Senate patio door.  "the big hawk released a squirrel and it came down and it hit behind me and he was shaking. He went off in the boxwoods and they (humans on the patio) were shaking!” Ivey laughed.

“These guys are a natural exterminator," Javier Nevarez of LSU’s Wildlife Hospital says. " They go for rats and mice. They hunt snakes, squirrels, and pretty much anything they get their talon's on.” Nevarez says red-tail hawks are in urban settings and violate their lifestyle rules to survive.

"You see them basically grouping together and just trying to go together for their food sources," he said. "They're typically solitary animals, but we're seeing--especially in the Baton Rouge area--were seeing more and more groups of them hunting together."

9News found that very thing--three hawks hunting together at the State Capitol. Nevarez says hawks hunt while circling high in the sky, but nest in trees closer to the ground. These wild birds in a city setting are out of their natural element --hunting in packs, all amidst thousands of tourists..

Nevarez says that these birds don't have natural predators. Their biggest threat is starvation. Can they hunt and find enough to eat?

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