RALEIGH — They swoop down from eight-story rooftops, grabbing squirrels off the Capitol lawn, startling lawyers and baristas with a flurry of speckled feathers.
Three species of raptor now thrive on the densest, tallest, most traffic-choked blocks of downtown Raleigh, stalking rodents, birds and bugs in an urban version of Wild Kingdom.
The most successful of these urban birds of prey, red-tailed hawks, can be spotted looming down from three or four of the city's highest rooftops nearly every afternoon.
This spring, a family successfully nested on the steeple of First Baptist Church, raising three chicks while thousands of pedestrians watched from Salisbury Street below.
"We certainly celebrate creation," said Lin Carter, minister of Christian Education and Outreach, "so we were excited.
"One morning, I could almost reach out and touch it."
The permanent presence of 2-foot meat-eating birds in Raleigh's core shows that these hawks are adaptable predators, taking rabbits and squirrels without fear of humans, said John Gerwin, curator of birds at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.
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