Cape Town - Was it a small plane? Was it Superman? No, actually, this time it was a bird in the form of an African Harrier-hawk that swooped around the heart of Cape Town last week, startling motorists and pedestrians and scaring the living daylights out of the pigeons.

And in the case of what appeared to be a young fledgling pigeon, this was literally true, because it was caught and devoured by the raptor that was formally known (and still is to many bird-lovers) as a Gymnogene.

The graceful but highly manoeuvrable raptor was photographed with its prey by Weekend Argus photographer Leon Muller at the intersection of Long and Waterkant streets.

Pedestrians and shoppers also whipped out their cellphones to record the unusual event while anxious Hartlaub’s Gulls squawked raucously as they tried in vain to drive the intruder away. The Harrier-hawk simply ignored them as it polished off its meal before taking off again.

A few days later it was seen alighting on the Methodist Church in Greenmarket Square, sending the local flocks of pigeons wheeling in terrified flight.

This raptor species has the ability to climb, using its wings, claws and double-jointed knees, which allows it to raid nests, particularly those of cavity-nesters such as barbets. It also feeds on alien species, like feral pigeons and house sparrows.

Professor Peter Ryan, director of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, confirmed the identity of the raptor.

“They are increasing in the Peninsula and are partial to squirrels, among other things,” he said.

That has to be good news for nature-lovers concerned at what appears to be the rapid population explosion of the alien grey squirrel that, although predominantly vegetarian, also feeds on the eggs and chicks of indigenous Cape birds.

Grey squirrels are native to North America and were among several exotic species introduced to the Cape by arch-colonialist Cecil John Rhodes.

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John Yeld, Sunday Argus