Indignity Vol. 2, No. 80: Fresh kill.
NATURAL HISTORY DEP'T.
A Conversation With the Person Who Filmed a Hawk Jumping Into a Garbage Can to Kill a Rat
NOTE: This department contains images and descriptions of carnivorous behavior.
ON WEDNESDAY, THE novelist and essayist Emily Gould posted a video to Twitter, in which a red-tailed hawk jumps down into a trash can by an entrance to Morningside Park, then reemerges—a brief but meaningful while later—with a dead rat in its clutches:
UPDATE: Is the above link nonexistent? Try this one.
Self-evident as the video appeared to be, as a committed chronicler of hawks hunting and eating things, I wanted to know more about it. Gould told me the original videographer was the author, doula, and birth educator Ceridwen Morris. I reached Morris by phone, and she shared more details of the experience—including the bird's remarkably famous choice of trash can.
INDIGNITY: This was a pretty incredible thing to witness, even vicariously on the internet, let alone, I'm sure, in person. The first thing I was wondering is—you see a clip like this, that's some perfectly contained event, and it has such a clear internal logic that you sort of forget that you couldn't have known what was going to happen when you started, right? How did you begin filming this?
CERIDWEN MORRIS: Well, I was walking up the street, beautiful day, 1:30 In the afternoon, and there's not that many people around on Morningside Avenue. I do walk a lot in the city, like miles a day, and I'm often—I'm not bird watching, but I'm definitely sort of connecting with whatever it is: the trees, or the breeze or the water, or whatever. And so I do notice stuff. I'm not sure how actively I was looking for anything, but I was kind of enjoying the day.
And then I just saw this hawk. And I was like, This is a thing. I just took out my phone. Because he was really focused. First I thought, I'll take a picture, because wow, I'm right next to this huge, amazing hawk that is, obviously, a bird, but just the feathers were so spectacular, it almost looked like fur. It was really an impressive kind of animal. I was wowed by that.
And then I thought, No, I'm gonna do a video, because this hawk is really lookin' in that garbage can. Something's happening. So I thought, I'll just wait. Worst-case scenario, I hold this camera on this scene and nothing really happens, and it's just another thing in my phone. And, you know, I have a picture of a hawk.
INDIGNITY: How close were you? What was the distance?
MORRIS: I was pretty close.
INDIGNITY: It looks like it.
MORRIS: Yeah, I was not zoomed in. I was just holding the phone.
INDIGNITY: You're just standing there on the sidewalk, and the hawk is there on the edge of the sidewalk. On the trash can. That's amazing.
MORRIS: Really close. I went a little bit closer at one point. And the hawk really, like, looked at me. I don't know a lot about birds, I just thought, if an animal is doing whatever it's doing in the hunt—I don't know what that means if a human then gets involved, but I'm gonna just sort of lay low. So I stepped back and held the phone and didn't say anything, or do anything.
And then all of a sudden, it goes into the garbage can and I'm like, all right, you know, he's gonna come out, and he's probably gonna have something. I know that there are rats all up and down. Because, I live in New York. And then boom, he came out. So I did have a feeling of, Don't stop videotaping, just in case.
INDIGNITY: Did you start to wonder, after it had been down in there for a while? Because it's not the quickest of turnarounds.
MORRIS: It's not, but if you time it—a friend of mine noticed this when she was watching it. She's like, what's interesting about this video is that also you really have to wait. The whole video that I posted was 59 seconds. So there's a bit at the beginning, and there's a bit at the end. The part where the hawk is actually in the garbage can is probably like 30 seconds, OK? Not long to kill a rat and bring it up. But yeah, it does feel like a long time, just standing there or just looking at your phone, 'cause things move so quickly on the internet. When you're scrolling it's all so quick, and 30 seconds suddenly is, like, a beat. It felt like that on the sidewalk too, by the way.
INDIGNITY: Were there, like, sounds coming from the trash can?
MORRIS: Not really. I was close, so you probably would have heard them. I think it was pretty quiet. And then I filmed a little bit afterwards that's not in the clip, and really zoomed in on the rat, and it was a big, fat rat. And it was interesting, partly, to me, because I was also like, how did he—what's the killing process? What happened in the garbage can? And I went and Googled. I guess I didn't see a lot of blood, like the the rat was like mangled and bleeding. It was just a big fat rat that was just dead. After 30 seconds. So I guess the hawk just uses its talons and just—crk!—whatever it does. Cracks, breaks, something bad.
INDIGNITY: Was it tangled up with some kind of napkin or something when it came out?
MORRIS: Yeah, there must have been some napkin or tissue in there that got, like, snagged on the rat's foot. One of the comments someone posted, someone who knows something about birds, said you could tell by the feathers that it was a young hawk. And that young hawks might be more likely to—they're learning how to hunt. And they might do something like hunt in a garbage can. I guess it's not maybe something that an older, more experienced hawk would do. But I definitely am just now not speaking as an expert.
INDIGNITY: It has the red tail though, right?
MORRIS: Yeah it's like a little orange-y, yeah.
INDIGNITY: ‘Cause that looked great in the light. I mean, part of it is that this happened, you know, in this wash of golden daylight. It really set it off.
MORRIS: Totally. The light was spectacular, exactly. I've been a photographer my whole life. And so I love the phone, because if you see a great moment where the light just hits whatever it is, you just can do it. And so this was one of those times where the light hit the hawk.
I don't know if I have a lot of bird videos or photos, 'cause often they're really hard to get. You're zooming in on a trunk, and they're camouflaged and it's, you know, gray sky, and it may be like a spectacular encounter for you to see an owl or just to have that feeling whenever you encounter an animal or bird in nature. It can be very powerful. But the photograph—it's like a photograph of a sunset. Most of the time they just don't really work. This was a lucky one.
INDIGNITY: The way that it all came together is amazing. I mean, I've seen a crow go down in a garbage can and get something to eat, you know, and I've seen hawks hunting, and I've seen rats coming out of trash cans. But to get all those elements together is just like—I was awed.
MORRIS: I felt the same way out on the street. There's a kind of nice funny spot, though, here too. Up on Morningside where it is kind of quiet. There are a lot of cats in Morningside Park, and there are some turtles and some geese. There is a sort of feeling when you live in New York where you're just like, oh, those people who are living in the country, who are not us, get to connect with nature so much more. But I do find that you get out there, there's often something—not as spectacular as what I saw yesterday—but there's often something. There is an encounter waiting for you with some like amazing, you know, twisted tree or something.
And I haven't seen a hawk around here, actually, come to think of it, like right up here, ever. Have you?
INDIGNITY: I'm trying to remember. My younger son spotted one the other day but we were down by Lincoln Square, then, I think. And I think I've seen some red-tails soaring high up, near Morningside, but not like perched on anything low, certainly.
MORRIS: I'm not a birdwatcher, but I've seen things. In upper Central Park and over in Riverside you'll stumble across a group of people looking up, but yeah, no, this bird—intense, those yellow talons? And just also, I did feel a moment of eye contact where I was like, this is no joke. The killing, hunting focus was, I think, probably what caught my attention. Walking by, right at the beginning of that video, you could see he's—I say "he," could be “she”—looking really focused. Looking down, also occasionally looking up, but definitely on a mission.
I think sometimes if you're kind of just walking around in your head, you could miss any number of animals milling around, but something like that—there must be some part of one's animal instinct that just makes you look. Like, There's something happening here. It's not just like a raccoon snacking on a hot dog bun. Or a rat.
INDIGNITY: Did you have a guess as to what was going on inside the trash can that had its attention? Did you think, Oh, there's a rat?
MORRIS: I totally thought, Oh, man, there's a rat in there. And he's going to get a rat. And it's alive, too. I was like, Well, he's not gonna go get some dead rat in there. And also rats tend to be alive, sadly.
But I didn't necessarily think that there would be success, because, I mean, it is a little bit of a situation, with the trash can. And I don't know, rats are fast. I don't know. But I did think that was the goal. So I was very happy to see that there was a big fat rat in its talons at the end. Mission accomplished.
And it did make me think maybe we need some more hawks, honestly. I don't know what that would do to the ecosystem. But can we let some loose?
INDIGNITY: I feel like the rats have gotten more bold in the daylight lately.
MORRIS: Oh. I feel that way. It's, for sure, just bold.
INDIGNITY: The boldness meets boldness, I guess.
MORRIS: I feel like I've even gotten a little bit more bold about rats. I don't know how you feel—not that I'm happy to see them, but I don't scream when I see movement in garbage bags, the way I used to, when I first moved here many decades ago.
Whenever I see garbage bags, I'm always looking—like, I'm scanning, scanning, scanning, because they're just all over the place. But I'm not really consciously thinking about it. I'm scanning, checking, walking.
Oh, a funny little fun fact about that garbage can when I saw the hawk. I don't know if you saw the show Only Murders in the Building?
INDIGNITY: I haven't yet, no.
MORRIS: It's really funny and great. We're watching with our daughter, who's 14, and we all loved it. One day they were shooting outside of our apartment, right where that garbage can is, and we were all excited. My daughter was especially excited because Selena Gomez was there, and it was all very star-studded.
And then a year later, we saw the episode they filmed on our street and it involved a plot point with that garbage can. It literally circles around that garbage can. Like there's a glitter bomb, and there's a glitter guy—he gets covered with glitter—and they put it in the garbage can in Morningside Park. I'm not thinking this when the hawk was there, but I afterwards I was like, Oh my God, that's the garbage can. That was in Only Murders in the Building. We added this dimension of New York uptown lore.
INDIGNITY: Perfect. Famous garbage can for the hawk.
MORRIS: Famous garbage can. Exactly.
INDIGNITY: It's gonna be the most famous garbage can in the neighborhood at this point.
MORRIS: They can't take it away. There was something else someone told me about that garbage can—oh, yeah! I told my neighbor. And she sent me a video of a raccoon popping its head out of that very garbage can. So it's quite a garbage can.
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