A red-tailed hawk is prowling the lush White House lawn and perching just above the second-story window of President Obama’s East Wing residence, lured by a booming population of gray squirrels.
WASHINGTON — A newcomer has arrived at the White House, provoking fierce turf battles and carrying out more than one lethal confrontation in broad daylight. But this is no political power struggle; it is nature.
A red-tailed hawk is prowling the lush White House lawn and perching just above the second-story window of President Obama’s East Wing residence, lured by a booming population of gray squirrels and undeterred by smaller birds that have tried in vain to displace it.
The hawk has been spotted several times stalking prey on the White House lawn, including last week when it dived and grabbed a squirrel and tore into it at lunchtime right in Obama’s driveway.
“A gray squirrel is a fantastic meal for them,” said Tom Auer, a conservation-data specialist at the National Audubon Society. “So as long as the food is there and there’s habitat — these tall buildings with open roofs are great places for them to hunt — and it doesn’t feel threatened, it will hang out.”
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It is hardly the first time a bird of prey has appeared on the grounds, which are technically a national park called President’s Park. The National Park Service website notes that visitors may spot “migratory birds and the occasional red-tailed hawk or bald eagle” on the premises.
In 1908, Theodore Roosevelt, an avid birder, drew up a list of the 93 bird species he had spotted around Washington while he was president, marking with asterisks those he had seen on the White House grounds. He inventoried dozens of types of sparrows, swallows and warblers he had seen around the presidential compound, as well as more exotic residents, including a pair of sparrow hawks that spent two consecutive winters there and a pair of saw-whet owls that made their home in the South Portico for several weeks in 1905.
“Doubtless this list is incomplete,” Roosevelt wrote at the end. “I have seen others that I have forgotten.”
Lately, some of the smaller types of birds Roosevelt saw, such as crows and jays, have been seen mobbing and divebombing the hawk to try to scare it off the White House grounds to protect their nests and young, ornithologists surmise. So far, the efforts have been for naught.
“The White House is a little bit more lush than any of the surrounding neighborhood,” said Auer, of the Audubon Society. “The bird provides an effective control on the squirrel population, so in some ways, it’s really a great thing.”