CHS reader Cory R. King sent in these images of a bald eagle at work in the skies of Capitol Hill and, along with Shark Week, inspired this week’s Pikes/Pines edition of “Top 5 predators” – ka-kaw! Eagle sound!
What exactly makes a top predator? A voracious appetite for other, more diminutive creatures? Extreme efficiency in dispatch and consumption of said prey? How about sheer bulk or some other valuable trait? Your definition is as good as mine.
Capitol Hill is well beyond discussion of apex predators and keystone species. Without a glimmer of disdain for what Capitol Hill is and isn’t, we can’t look at the predatory species in our neighborhood and say they provide essential balance to our ecosystems, because they are so altered. Still, plenty of predators in our urban environment do control prey populations, are voracious predators, and are surprisingly efficient too. Of course there are more than five, but here’s a few that come to mind when considering Capitol Hill’s top predators.
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)– Yes, yes, whether or not you choose to pay homage to our national symbol, Bald Eagles are spectacular predators. They scoop fish from the water, lift unsuspecting small animals from our yards (for better or worse), and glide happily over our heads year round. What you probably don’t know is that they are also scavenging bullies, stealing food from others and scarfing pre-killed meals as much as catching their own. They make ranking because typically other animals pay attention when they are around, even if they are unscrupulous predators.
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) – Because birds can fly, they inherently do much better in our scatter shot urban green spaces (and most major predators need space to find enough food), so there’s a strong preference for winged creatures in this list. Cooper’s Hawks are a common sight in our blocks because they eat small birds and mammals. They are built with short wings and long tails for dashing through trees to surprise prey as large as pigeons (one study of their skeletons found 23 percent of those examined had healed fractures in the forebody from accidental impacts during high speed pursuits of prey). They nest in a few spots on the Hill and are sometimes daily attendants at bird feeders, hunting those we feed.
Coyote (Canis latrans) – By now most know that despite being elusive, coyotes are quite common in the city. Not simply on the margins but right in the middle of urban Seattle. They enjoy the numerous rodents that dwell along side us, but like all the vertebrate predators I’ll mention, enjoy a flexible diet. They sometime come into conflict with our pets, particularly cats (which could be listed as top predators themselves), often killing them not just for food but in removal of perceived competitors. Here’s a good source of information on urban coyotes.
Raccoon (Procyon lotor) – We think of Raccoons as bumpkins that scramble about for our trash, but anyone with chickens might disagree. Raccoons aren’t exactly fast, don’t have great long distance vision, but they have extremely good senses of touch paired with decent senses of smell and hearing, which aid them in finding plenty of fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds eggs, and nestlings about our urban scape. While they are all over at night, I often see them during the day on the water edges of the hill, because they know the bounties there.
Dragonfly (Order Odonata) – In a world of scales, we have to consider smaller creatures too. Dragonflies in general are extremely efficient predators, both as aquatic larvae, which prey on almost anything they can find, and as winged adults. Studies of show that adults catch their prey, typically including the despised mosquito, an astonishing 95% of the time (some predatory birds can have less than 20 percent success rate). All the above species considered are single representatives of larger groups, which demonstrates how little attention we pay smaller creatures: the Pacific Northwest has dozens of dragonfly species. Here’s a good primer on their amazing feats.
Previously in Pikes/Pines