Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

A Red-tailed Hawk is Hunting the I-290 Median! January 6, 2010

For the past three days a Red-tailed Hawk has been hunting from lamp posts at the end of our block:

Red-tailed Hawk, I-290 median, south Oak Park, Illinois, January 5, 2009.

The Red-tailed Hawk sits on lamp posts at the end of our block. The posts are in the grassy median between the east- and west-bound lanes of Interstate 290 (also called the Eisenhower Express, the Ike, or the Congress).

I first noticed the hawk on Monday while I was walking to Maze Library across the Ridgeland bridge. I saw the hawk flying from post to post, approaching me from the east. Once it got close enough, I recognized it as the pale-bellied Red-tail that I’ve seen in Columbus Park, about a mile east on the expressway:

Red-tailed Hawk, I-290 median, south Oak Park, Illinois, January 5, 2009.

The Red-tailed Hawk's chest and belly look distinctively pale compared with other local Red-tails.

A few weeks ago I watched this hawk hunting Mourning Doves behind the Refectory at Columbus Park — it failed rather miserably. On Monday the Red-tail made a pass at Pigeons roosting on the apartment building at the end of our block — another fail. Then it flew directly at the large Red Cedar in our alley where House Finches and Goldfinches roost — the small birds scattered, and the hawk was not even close to scoring a meal.

Since then, every time I see the hawk it’s sitting on a lamp post:

Red-tailed Hawk, I-290 median, south Oak Park, Illinois, January 5, 2009.

The I-290 Red-tailed Hawk in south Oak Park.

It’s always look down, at least when it’s not looking at me. It’s probably hoping for a glimpse at a potential meal — a mouse, perhaps a rat, maybe a rabbit brave enough to cross three lanes of traffic.

I hope the hawk is more successful with mammals than it is with birds. And I hope it understands the dangers of speeding cars and trucks.

Red-tailed Hawk, I-290 median, south Oak Park, Illinois, January 5, 2009.

The I-290 Red-tailed Hawk on a distant lamp post.


Red-tailed Hawks often hunt along highway right-of-ways. Here are some links that discuss this aspect of Red-tail natural history:


11 Responses to “A Red-tailed Hawk is Hunting the I-290 Median!”

  1. Gloria Says:

    Hello, great pictures of the hawk. So good to see fellow urban wildlife observers from the area.
    Have you seen the Wildlife Gardeners forum that started up this last year. Your family could contribute much to an urban perspective.
    Please check us out and join in anytime if you like what you see. My name is Gloria.

  2. lakechicagoshores Says:

    Earlier this month, we spotted a hawk in our northeast Oak Park backyard for the first time ( It doesn’t appear to be this particular hawk, so there’s at least two hanging around the area. I’ll have to keep my eyes open when we go down to the Ike!

  3. Slava Says:

    That’s awesome – I’ve never thought these birds might be found in the city area…
    Well, I saw owls twice in my city, but what concerns hawks it’s totally amazing. Great pics! 😉

  4. eileeninmd Says:

    It is interesting that hawks are always found perched near highways. Great shots.

  5. Robin Arbetman Says:

    Your website is really great as are your photographs. I think this same hawk – or one that looks just like it – was on our block (600 south on Humphrey) about two weeks ago. It sat on a lamp post for a long time. It did, however, swoop down and gorge a squirrel, to the amazement of some neighborhood kids! I have a picture of the bird somewhere, I will try and find it and send it to you. The village came and picked up the remains of the squirrel pretty quickly.
    I would love to hear a coyote howl, when is that most likely to happen?

    • Thanks for the kind comment!
      We also have at least two Red-tailed Hawks at Columbus this winter, probably competing with the coyote for food.
      As far as I know, coyotes howl mostly at night, at least that’s when I’ve heard them out in the country. I’ve never heard a coyote howl in the city, but we can always hope!

  6. Anne Says:

    Just came across your blog as I was looking for information about the hawk I saw from my bedroom window perched on our front porch roof. It wasn’t a red-tailed hawk — I used to see them all the time from the Blue Line L in the isolated area just before the tunnel around Central.

    This one had a distinctive horizontal striped tail. From what I could find, it appears that this was a red-shouldered hawk. Do you know if they are common around here? Or have they been attracted by the exploding rabbit population?

    • Anne,
      We see Red-shouldered Hawks in Oak Park once every couple of years, usually during migration season, so that would be a great find! However, you should also consider a much more common hawk with horizontal bands on the tail: The Cooper’s Hawk:
      Cooper’s Hawks have an overall more slender build and a longer tail, which shows dark and grayish bands of about the same width (rather than broader black and narrower white bands, like a Red-shouldered Hawk). Cooper’s Hawks usually show a narrow white band on the tip of the tail.
      Cooper’s Hawks are around all year in Oak Park, We even had them nest on our street this year (Elmwood south of the Congress).

  7. maggie Says:

    I have been spotting this cute little guy every morning on my way to work. I love him!!

  8. Dan Says:

    I just saw what I think was a hawk fly right over my yard right when my cat entered the yard from the porch stairs.

    • Dan, you don’t say where you live, but if it’s in south Oak Park, I can tell you that we once again have a Red-tailed Hawk spending the winter in the neighborhood. We have been seeing it on the I-290 lamp posts almost every day and flying over the neighborhoods at least a couple of times a week. The squirrels take up defensive postures when it flies over, and they make a particular noise that lets evryone know danger is around (they make a similar noise for large cats).
      I know of at least one instance of a Red-tailed hawk attacking a small, off-leash dog in Columbus Park. I’m not sure if it would take on a cat–they seem a bit better at self defense than a lap dog would be.

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