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SU bird watcher: Why raptors have lived on Syracuse campus for the past decade

A Sue hawk is sitting on Link Hall.
Anne Marie Higgins
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The bald eagles that winter on Onondaga Lake have captured the attention many Central New Yorkers. But there are other raptors that have made the Syracuse University campus home for the past decade. Why have red-tailed hawks Sue and Otto have hung around for so long?

They started out on Lyman Hall—their first 8 years in the east facing archway, and 2 years facing west. Now, they’re on the other side of the quad on atop Bowne Hall, facing north. SU Alumna and avid bird watcher Anne Marie Higgins has funded the live nest cams in memory of her husband Thomas. The cameras have followed Sue and Otto and their offspring since 2017.

All of their nests have bene in archways of buildings, so they’re very protected from the weather. Many hawks build nests in trees, and they get weather all around them. But these hawks are used to having their nests protected.

Natia Javakhishvili is a SUNY ESF graduate student studying conservation biology. She said the raptors tend to stay in and own the same general territory to save energy.

If they would change their breeding territories every year, it would be a new fight with other species, spending lots of energy. As we talk about raptors, they should spend a lot of energy during the breeding stages while they are incubating. They need this energy supply to be successful breeders.

Javakhishvili said a steady source of food is another reason the hawks stay put.

The fact that they have stayed her for over ten years already means they have available resources. They basically feed on mice and birds.

Also squirrels and small rabbits. Thanks to the cameras funded by Anne Marie Higgins, she was able to see that Sue and Otto have a clutch of four eggs this spring, rather than the usual three. She and her team of volunteer camera operators will spend the next two weeks or so awaiting the arrival of the chicks.

We cover the hawks pretty much 24/7. They’re sleeping at night. But if I need to be awake for any particular reason, say a chick is hatching, I’ll stay awake. But we monitor all day and move the camera view so we can see the best view of what’s going on.

Higgins said they weren’t able to get a camera on Bowne Hall before Sue laid her eggs, so they had to settle for a less than ideal diagonal view from a nearby building. The live cam can be found Arts and Sciences Hawk Nest Cam - College of Arts & Sciences at Syracuse University You can also follow Higgins’ Facebook page.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.