Red-tailed hawks give Qns ‘jail birds’ a new meaning

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Two full-grown hawks swoop over the grounds of the Queens Criminal Court in search of food for their two babies nested behind the building at the Queens House of Detention. The hawks feast on live pigeons, squirrels and rats. They can be seen bringing scraps back for their offspring, which court officers estimate are only 2-weeks-old.

It appears that court officers have been swept away by the passion of bird-watching in the afternoon.

"When it flies by, you can't help but look at it," said a court officer, who declined to give his name. "It's huge."

The court officer said he has seen the hawk grab a seagull or a pigeon, bring it on top of a lamppost and tear it to pieces.

Apparently the bird watchers aren't the only ones enjoying themselves. "A lot of times they are in a playful mood," said the court officer. "They grab the pigeon and then pull off."

The back of Queens Criminal Court faces the Queens House of Detention where the hawks are nesting. The court officers who work on the seventh floor are fond of the hawks. A window in the hallway faces directly at the nest. From that vantage point, it is possible to watch the hawks feed their young.

For those who want a closer look, a court officer has set up a telescope to watch the hawk's nest.

"A lot of people are talking about the hawk," said David Tarr, a court officer. "They kind of think of them as our hawks." Tarr said people even ask each other, "Have you seen the hawk today?"

Sometimes the hawks disrupt the workday. A hawk often flies so close to the window that it casts a shadow in the office.

"All of sudden it's like a plane flying by the window," said John Guastella, still another court officer.

The hawks are very popular for their prowess at solving the vermin problem in the area.

"I like him for getting rid of the pigeons," said a court officer. "I haven't seen a rat during the day in over a year." But the hawks have also driven away the likable blue jays, who formerly had a nest near the Queens Criminal Court.

Christine Sheppard, a curator of birds at the Bronx Zoo, said it is not uncommon to see a hawk nesting in the city.

"They are pretty common," said Sheppard. "There is a good prey base with all the pigeons."

Hawks normally nest in the same spot year after year, making it likely that the hawks will call the Queens House of Detention home for years to come, she said.

Reach reporter Tommy Hallissey by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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