City Goes to Birds 

Rowdy birds, some deadly and some messy, take over Richmond.


Like cooler weather, the screeching of thousands of birds swarming downtown city trees and above thoroughfares such as East Main Street is a harbinger of September.

Some are relatively harmless, such as European starlings. Some are violent, winged assassins — take the red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, which also are migrating this time of year. Red-tailed hawks, which typically weigh two and a half pounds with wingspans of 49 inches, are known to swoop down and snatch up squirrels, mice and small birds. They've also reportedly attacked small dogs or cats, but such attacks are rare, says Sergio Harding, a nongame bird conservation biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

With the proliferation of urban chickens, however, there could be some cause for concern. Hawks eat chickens.

“Occasionally, somebody has guinea fowls or has domestic chickens, there are predation events, where their chickens are being taken,” Harding says. But it's more likely that a resident hawk is the culprit in a chicken attack, he says, as they're more apt to know the terrain and chicken hot spots. Migrating hawks are less familiar.

Starlings roost every evening around dusk, says Michael Wilson, a research biologist at the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University. Now that breeding season is over the birds are feeling less territorial and more apt to congregate, he says. Brought to the United States in the 19th century, European starlings thrive as the aviary equivalent of squirrels, able to pick food from city refuse and nest in buildings.

Another species of noisy birds, purple martins, fled Richmond in mid-September. Native to tropical climes such as Central and South America, purple martins fly north to mate in the spring. After local conservation efforts by bird enthusiasts, the city's purple martin population swelled to upwards of 10,000 this year, Wilson says.

They alight on a line of Bradford pear trees near the 17th Street Farmers' Market from early July to early September in what Wilson calls a “premigratory roost” in swooshes of 500 to 1,000 birds. Then they catch up, or squabble.

“Sometimes there's fights over perch space,” Wilson notes.

With purple martins gone, now roaming are European starlings, owls and red-tailed hawks — who snacked this year on purple martins, Wilson says: “Red-tails were coming down and plucking [them].”


Latest in News and Features


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Connect with Style Weekly

Newsletter Sign-Up

The Flash
The Bite
The Scoop

Most Popular Stories

  • Title X Crisis

    Title X Crisis

    A look into the federal grant program and what its new restrictions could mean for Virginia’s family planning services.
    • Sep 17, 2019
  • Mayor Fires Chief Administrative Officer

    Mayor Fires Chief Administrative Officer

    Inspector general report finds issues with the hiring of family members at City Hall.
    • Sep 18, 2019
  • Finding Beulah

    Finding Beulah

    A bestselling novelist digs into a sensational local murder trial from 1911 and gives a voice to the 17-year-old victim lost in the middle.
    • Sep 17, 2019
  • A Mystery and a Mission

    A Mystery and a Mission

    The quest by Regina Boone, daughter of the founder of the Richmond Free Press, to find out what happened to her Japanese grandfather after World War II.
    • Sep 10, 2019
  • More »

Copyright © 2019 Style Weekly
Richmond's alternative for news, arts, culture and opinion
All rights reserved
Powered by Foundation