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Pikes/Pines | Top five (animal) predators of Capitol Hill — ka-kaw! Eagle sound!

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.


A Bald Eagle in the middle of Seattle. Credit: Brendan McGarry

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.


A Cooper’s Hawk enjoying a small rabit. Credit: Brendan McGarry

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.

This coyote was hunted down and killed near Volunteer Park in 2012 after exhibiting signs of illness (Image: CHS)

This coyote was hunted down and killed near Volunteer Park in 2012 after exhibiting signs of illness (Image: CHS)

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.

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A dragonfly taking a break from savaging other flying insects. Credit: Brendan McGarry

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.


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7 thoughts on “Pikes/Pines | Top five (animal) predators of Capitol Hill — ka-kaw! Eagle sound!

  1. *elusive, as in “tending to elude”, rather than illusive, or “deceptive, or illusory”. They are coyotes, not illusions.

    • Correct you are. Sometimes a writer gets carried away with how they feel about the species they cover. If you’ve ever seen a coyote for a split second, blinked, and found them gone, you might consider them an illusion too.

  2. I moved to a ‘burb north of town a few years back and have had a couple of
    encounters with the top predators. One is very benign and touching — a red
    dragonfly has repeatedly landed on the red ribbon fabric of my dog’s leash
    while we’ve been out for walks. I have no idea how a red dragonfly would be
    aware of its own color and do so. Just reporting facts. The second, more
    menacing encounter was with a nesting owl early in the morning on a sidewalk
    on my way to catch the Metro into town. It swooped from behind and smacked
    the back of my head with its knuckles twice before I got the hint and ran at
    full speed towards the nearest streetlight. I had a penlight with me that I shined
    into the tree canopy and found the beast sitting, waiting for a third pass.
    This was in April, and ever since, I have waved the penlight in advance as I pass
    through that spanned ravine, in a wild sort of ritual that would make neighbors
    wonder about my sanity. So far, no new encounters!

    • Stay safe out there. Sometimes owls (and I bet this was a barred) will use talons in addition to simply hitting you with their feet. Generally they stop post nesting, so later in the spring.

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