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Highways as Habitat for Hawks

Accidental gifts from the age of the automobile

In 1956, the Eisenhower Administration announced plans for the nation’s new interstate highway system. Planners foresaw 41,000 miles of superior highways, with a grassy border on either side and down the middle. The grassy areas created ribbons of wildlife habitat occupied by small mammals such as voles — favorite prey of the Red-tailed Hawk (like this light-morph Harlan's Hawk) and other raptors, which are now common along many stretches of interstate. And there are now hundreds of thousands of other highway miles that offer equally prosperous hunting grounds for birds.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®
Highways as Habitat for Hawks
Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Red-tailed Hawk call, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/202280, 0.13-.14] [Traffic SFX]

A hawk is hunting in the kingdom of cars and 18-wheelers. 

Archive: This is the American dream of freedom on wheels. An automotive age traveling on time saving super-highways…[fades]  

In 1956 the Eisenhower Administration announced plans for the nation’s new interstate highway system. 41,000 miles of highways with limited on-off access, multiple lanes for high-speed travel, and – often – a grassy border on either side. These by-products of highway construction created ribbons of wildlife habitat, soon occupied by small mammals such as voles – favorite prey of the Red-tailed Hawk and other raptors that are now common along many stretches of interstate.  

[Red-tailed Hawk call, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/202280, 0.13-.14]

[+ Interstate SFX]

At a conservative guess, if the average grassy verge is a modest 50 feet wide on each side of the freeway, that’s 12 acres of grass per mile of highway. Multiplied by the current 47,000 miles of interstate, that’s about 881 square miles of green. And that’s only the interstates. There are hundreds of thousands of other highway miles that crisscross the country and often offer equally prosperous hunting grounds for a multitude of birds. Accidental gifts from the age of the automobile. 

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.  

[Red-tailed Hawk call, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/202280, 0.13-.14]

###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Red-tailed Hawk [202280] recorded by Jay W McGowan
Archive recording ‘Give Yourself the Green Light’ 1954 produced by General Motors
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2016 Tune In to Nature.org        February 2016         Narrator: Michael Stein

ID# roadside-02-2016-02-18 roadside-02     

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