Anne Hill, the President of East Lansing’s Hawk Nest Homeowners’ Association, was looking through Facebook when she saw a post on the community’s Facebook page. Someone had posted that they had seen a bald eagle and asked if anyone else had seen it.
Coincidentally, around the same time, ELi’s Publisher and Executive Director Alice Dreger contacted Hill to tell her that she had seen a bald eagle while running on the Northern Tier Trail in the Hawk Nest Neighborhood.
“I heard what I knew to be a bald eagle cry. I looked all around and didn’t see anything, so I kept running, and about a minute later the bird swooped over me, about 15 feet above me, flying north over the trail,” Dreger said. “It was so amazing to see because, when I was growing up, the human deployment of the pesitcide DDT was killing so many birds, we thought bald eagles might die out.”
After hearing Dreger’s experience, Hill posted a note on the Facebook page, and two people responded saying they had also seen a bald eagle in the area.
One sighting was in the Villas of Stratford in 2018, and the other was from 2019. Both Hawk Nest and the Villas of Stratford are located on the northern end of East Lansing. And according to Hill, since they are surrounded by miles of farmland, there are often wild animals spotted in the area.
Rick Neubig, a local bird watcher, also saw bald eagles this past year. His latest sighting was in December, and during the summer of 2020, he saw a bald eagle and its nest north of town on the Looking Glass River. During 2020, Neubig saw eight bald eagles in the Lansing area.
But bald eagles are not the only raptors that are common in the area. According to Neubig, winter is a good time to see hawks in general here.
The red-tailed hawk can be spotted perched on telephone poles and trees along the highways. The Cooper’s hawk is another raptor that people often see in their yards. It goes after other birds, so, according to Neubig, when you see something big happening at your bird feeder, there’s a big chance that it’s a Cooper’s hawk.
The sharp-shinned hawk is harder to distinguish, but the adults have a rufous (rust-colored) breast and gray back. They tend to fly fast and twist and turn. Neubig recently saw a sharp-shinned hawk fly by the window in his backyard.
East Lansing resident Aron Sousa has also seen sharp-shinned hawks in his yard.
“In our yard, the sharp-shinned hawk loves to fly around the neighborhood and to catch animals at our feeders,” Sousa said. “It is lovely to watch. You have to wonder if it is around every time the yard suddenly goes silent — all the bird calls suddenly stop — and everything in the yard stops moving.”
To see these hawks in the winter, Neubig suggested that you drive by farm fields on College Road or in Clinton County. They are usually perched on telephone poles, wires, trees, and in fields.
Neubig has also seen falcons and owls such as the American kestrel, which is a relatively small falcon with blue and orange feathers. He has also seen peregrine falcons, great horned owls, and screech owls.
Like most serious birders, Neubig keeps a personal list of the raptors he sees, and he’s always on the lookout for more birds to add to his list. According to Neubig, if you look hard enough, you’ll see them.
“When I’m riding in the car along the highway, I’ll see red-tailed hawks. [I say] ‘Oh there’s one. There’s one. There’s one.’ People riding with me will say, ‘Gee I’ve never seen those before,’ but they’re there. You just have to look and know what you’re looking for, and if you look for things, you’ll often find them,” Neubig said. “Raptors are one of my favorite groups of birds, so I always enjoy seeing them.”
For more information on local sightings, you can visit ebird.org, which is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. On the website, you can search Ingham or Clinton Counties, select any bird species, and then see how many sightings were recorded in a certain time period.
[Disclosure: Anne Hill is a member of ELi’s Community Advisory Board. Aron Sousa is the spouse of ELi’s Publisher and Executive Director Alice Dreger.]