UW Today

This is an archived article.

December 9, 2010

The life and times of Denny the red-tailed hawk

News and Information

See more photos of Denny, taken by Mark Weitzenkamp, counseling services coordinator for Law Societies and Justice.

Denny was out behind Smith Hall, just trying to get his lunch and take it to a cozy place to eat, but he was having trouble. The first thing you know a crowd had gathered, watching his efforts and cheering him on. If only they could have helped.

Denny is a juvenile red-tailed hawk, so called because he frequents Denny Yard, where staffers in the Philosophy Department have been watching him for weeks from their office in Savery.

But on this day he had ventured to the other side of the Quad, where he had managed to kill a rat. A tasty treat indeed, but thats when the trouble started.

“[Denny] tried to fly away a couple of times with the prey in his claws,” said Kathy Laughman, a UW staffer who witnessed the lunchtime drama. “I could tell [the bird] couldnt get enough loft to get airborne. So he would take off and come down again, take off and come down again. Then it seemed like he was standing there thinking about it, but he was not going to let go of that prey.”

As Denny stood there, an interested crowd stood with him, hoping hed succeed in carrying off the rat. Eventually he did get in the air with it, but alas, he couldnt hold on.

Denny the hawk with the lunch he had trouble transporting. | Photo by Kathy Laughman

Denny the hawk with the lunch he had trouble transporting. | Photo by Kathy Laughman

According to Bev Wessel, Denny has been more successful in the past. Shes one of the Savery Hall observers and an avid birder.

“One Friday afternoon I was coming back to the office and I had my binoculars because Id been out birding at lunchtime,” she said. “I heard all this crow noise; they were really squawking, and [Denny] was sitting in the tree right out here eating a crow. All the students were coming by, taking photos with their phones and I was letting them use my binoculars.”

Maybe thats why, sometime later, Denny was seen perched on the window sill right outside the Philosophy Department advisers office, taking refuge from a murder of crows who were harassing him.

“Hes a beautiful bird,” Laughman said. “He had so much dignity, trying to hold onto that rat. It was very impressive to see.”

But then, Denny may be just as impressed with himself. Wessel related a time when she was meeting with fellow birders in the departmental conference room over lunch.

“Just as we were starting our meeting, he flew in and perched at the top of Smith Hall, looking right at us,” she said. “I was just about to tell everyone about him, and there he was for all to see.”

And maybe all that lunchtime drama was Denny getting ready for his close-up.

Said Laughman, “It was almost as if he had groomed himself before he made his appearance.”