PATCH: Seven months in the life of an urban Red-tailed Hawk.

This is a chronicle of the early life of Patch, a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk who lived in and around San Francisco's Alta Plaza Park. She was banded in August 2005 by the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory in the Marin Headlands, just across the Golden Gate Bridge. Her metal band, on the right leg reads 1177-46637. 

She adapted quickly to the park and skillfully navigated the people, dogs, ongoing construction, and other wildlife in the environment. Her diet consisted mainly of the gophers and other rodents populating the terraced edges of Alta Plaza. She proved quite a generalist and also ate pigeons, blackbirds, caterpillars, and the occasional earthworm.

Her hunting techniques included scanning from a perch, stilling in the high winds over the park, low fast flights over rooftops, and even walking on the ground to seek out insects. She once flew in from over a quarter mile away in a straight, direct dive, to pluck an unsuspecting gopher from under the shadow of a row of trees near the west side of the park.

Her success rate hovered around 1 out of 5 attempts. Some days she never seemed to miss, and other days she flew frantically around the park and desperately low, trying to find anything that resembled a meal.

One of her favorite perches was the cross on a a church opposite the south stairs.  From there she had a commanding view of the park and the surrounding environs. 

She began molting and almost completed her transition into adult plumage before starting to take exploratory trips out of the park. She then became an occasional visitor to Alta Plaza Park before encounters with other hawks and the energy surrounding the oncoming fall migration seemed to call her out into the wider world.

While I was photographing her she was present almost daily. I was honored to have this sort of unusual relationship with a wild hawk. A level of trust and familiarity developed and she often landed on the ground near me - sometimes as close as 5 feet away. I took great care not to be a disruptive presence. I was witness to a wide range of behaviours and learned a great deal about the habits of raptors in the process.









It is wonderful to know these birds are living in our midst, and it is heartening to have seen one bird, react, adapt, grow and survive in these 4 square blocks in the center of one of the largest cities on the country. 

We eventually recovered her band and learned that she relocated to a valley near Clear Lake. She lived for 5 years and likely bred a few times before meeting her end. 

 R.I.P. Patch.