The Stealthy Inhabitants of Tlatelolco

Text by Andrés Rozada
Photos of Mateo Pizarro


Mexico City is made up of a myriad of overlapping nuances, the result of a long and highly complex history. These nuances are often sinister, but sometimes the city surprises us with a certain lightness and simplicity that is so good for its inhabitants.

Seven or eight years ago, I was driving through Avenida Revolución heading south, when something caught my attention: a pair of hawks had just stood on a billboard. I could not bear my astonishment, because, having grown up in the Bajio, I associated these birds with the glens, semi-arid canyons and mountains of the Sierra where preys are abundant: rabbits, birds, lizards and field mice. As a kid, I could spend hours looking out the car window when we were on the highway towards Jalisco or San Luis Potosi, looking at them flying in the distance, learning to distinguish them amongst the vultures.


In those days, there was nothing like watching a hawk doing “the holy spirit.” This hunting method, besides being very effective, results in an absolute display of skill as the hawk, despite the wind, remains static at about 10 or 15 meters above the unsuspicious prey, holding that position with very slight wing movements. If you were lucky, you could see the hawk come down into a nosedive, and when it reappeared from the grass it was with dinner between its legs.


After that day in Avenida Revolución, I began to see them quite often once or twice a year, usually in pairs; major birds flying undisturbed above the avenues. To see them here became a sort of sacred ritual, a symbol of good fortune. 1


Early last year, my job took me to Tlatelolco. And it had to be there, in one of the cultural epicenters of this country, that good fortune would become a daily thing. During one of my first visits, I saw a pair of Harris’s hawks appear among the trees of the Jardín Santiago, and since then I devote every week several minutes to seeing them jump through the branches and fly from one building to another living in the city.


These hawks are distinguishable for being very sociable and hunting in groups. This characteristic, combined with their high intelligence, is one of the reasons that make this species one of the most popularly used in falconry. They have actually been used at the Mexico City International Airport to scare birds and thus avoid the risk of accidents.


I’m not sure since when this couple Harris’s hawks and their offspring decided to live in the city, but I think it’s a sign that things can improve. If the city’s green areas and the roofs tops of our buildings are habitable for a group of wild predators, then many other things seem possible. The fauna of this valley, which we have alienated to the point of saturation, seems to be willing to re-emerge if we provide it with the right incentives; Its up to its people and its rulers to start appreciating this possibility.


1. In another city, the one with the skyscrapers, majorly portrayed in movies, and to which many feel so close, there’s a story and a documentary (obviously) of a red-tailed hawk named Pale Male. This 24-year old veteran lives since 1991 in a building on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. He is considered one of the first hawks that arrived in New York, and has fathered many offspring who remained living in the city, and that are now part of a stable population that nests in the iconic bridges and buildings of Manhattan. Groups of birders are often armed in the park with their lenses, looking out to see the legendary hawk doing his thing.


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