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Top 5 “Big Game” Critters

 Big Game Critters Header

It's finally here, the second biggest eating day of the year. That’s right, its Big Game Weekend! Several NFL teams are named after animals that you might see in the Rock Creek watershed, including one of the teams that will be playing for the Lombardy Trophy on Sunday. While you’re munching on chicken wings and chili, do you know what some of your favorite team animals will be eating? If you said pigeons, berries, bugs you’re right! In honor of the Big Game, let’s take a closer look at some of our favorite NFL team namesakes. And remember…you should never feed wild animals.

Bald eagle fishingYou can sometimes spot bald eagles in Rock Creek, though they won't be fishing like this! Photo: Yellowstone National Park 

 1) The Eagles | Fish Sticks

 Since they will be vying for the Lombardy Trophy and trying to take down the Patriots, let’s start with Eagles. Once endangered, the Bald Eagle was delisted on October 9, 2007, due largely to the banning of the pesticide DDT and habitat protection. Bald eagles can be seen throughout the watershed, including in Rock Creek Park. You may see them soaring high in the sky or perched in trees near lakes, rivers, and marshes, but you won’t notice their distinctive white heads until they’re 4 to 5 years old. They mate for life and tend to return to the same nests year after year, with some nests weighing in at as much as 4000 pounds!

So what will the preferred snack be while the Bald Eagle is watching the Big Game? Legs, wings, and fish sticks! Bald Eagles dine mainly on waterfowl, fish, and small mammals such as squirrels, raccoons, and rabbits. They’re also big on leftovers and commonly scavenge meals by harassing other birds or by eating carrion (decaying animals).

Eat like an eagle:

Why not try making your own fish sticks? If you’re not a fan of salmon, you can substitute any firm, white fish, such as cod, in this recipe.

Peregrine Falcon looks over shoulder. Hello!

This falcon is probably mad its team didn't do so well.  Photo: Paul Horner

2) The Falcons | Chicken Wings

Another bird commonly seen in the watershed is the Peregrine Falcon. While the Falcons didn’t do so hot this year, and won’t be playing in the Big Game, I’m sure they will be enjoying the commercials. Peregrine Falcons are about the size of the common crow, tipping the scale at around 2 pounds. Small in stature, they’re the wide receivers of the bird world, powerful and fast-flying.

Like the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon populations were also once decimated by DDT poisoning. Thanks to the banning of DDT and an intensive, 28-year recovery program that included the release of over 4,000 captive-raised birds, the Peregrine Falcon was delisted in 1999. Peregrine Falcons prefer to nest on cliff faces and crevices, however, their populations are consistently growing in urban areas as skyscrapers also make great nest sites.

Peregrine Falcons dine almost exclusively on other birds including doves, waterfowl, and pigeons. Their love of pigeons is another reason that populations are growing in urban areas. Without a doubt, the Big Game buffet at the Peregrine Falcon nest will be loaded with chicken wings, and I can’t say that I blame them!

Eat like a falcon:

Everyone loves a chicken wing, but making them can be a real mess. Spare yourself the trouble of cleaning up all that mess from frying them at home and order some to go from one of these local restaurants. No matter where you live or what your tastes are, there’s one on this list for you!

Cardinal eating seedsThis cardinal may be watching the game from the couch, but at least it has this unending supply of snacks. Photo by Domingo Mora. 

3) The Cardinals | Fruit and Nut Granola  

Lastly, but certainly not least, let’s show some love for the Cardinals. Like the Falcons, the Cardinals will be watching the Big Game from the couch, but hey, they’ll have lots of company. With their bright red feathers and early morning songs, cardinals are one of the most recognizable birds in the watershed. You’ll often see them in pairs sitting low in shrubs and trees or hanging around your bird feeder.

You’ll find the Cardinals hanging out at the vegetarian end of the Big Game buffet. While they do eat the occasional spider, moth, or insect, they primarily dine on seeds and fruit and are particularly fond of dogwood, wild grape, blackberry, and corn.

Eat like a cardinal:

Don’t waste your money buying expensive, prepackaged granola. Make your own! Once you have a basic recipe, you can tweak it to add whatever fruits and nuts you like. Here’s a good, basic recipe to get you started.

A bear in motion will stay in motion. It takes a lot to get a bear in motion.

Bears don't live in Rock Creek, but they used to. Photo by Neal Herbert.

4) ’Da Bears | Everything and a Nap

The last two animals I want to talk about are much larger and less ubiquitous in the watershed. Those are ‘Da Bears and the Colts.

After another disappointing season, ‘Da Bears have decided that its best to just hibernate until spring workouts begin. While you won’t see a black bear in Rock Creek Park, it is possible that you may see one in other parts of the watershed. Historically, black bears were found in the area that is now Rock Creek Park, but due to high levels of surrounding development, the park is no longer able to provide suitable habitat. However, black bears are found in Montgomery County. The largest black bear populations tend to be in the western, more rural counties such as Washington, Allegany, and Frederick. Typically, black bears tend to stay close to home, with a habitat range of about 10-25 miles, but they have been known to roam up to 200 miles in search of suitable habitat. Meaning it is not uncommon to see them moving quickly through urban areas in the spring and summer while they are making their way to more rural locations. They’ve even been known to travel highway routes to shorten the distance traveled!

Should any of ‘Da Bears decide that it's worth getting out of bed to watch the Big Game, their plates will be loaded up with grubs, grasses, roots, and insects. Should their happen to be any fish sticks or small, roasted mammals on the buffet, they will happily munch on those as well. And like the Eagles, ‘Da Bears have also been known to dine on carrion so they can help with the leftovers as well!

Eat like a bear:

The Big Game is over and you’ve got tons of leftovers. No one wants to eat a reheated chicken wing. Check out this article to learn how to repurpose your Big Game leftovers into something new and fabulous.

Two horses eating from a trough.

These horses are pretty thrilled to be munching on some hay, but I'm going to need some dip with that. Photo by Andrew Wilkinson

5) The Colts | Crudite and Dip

That leaves us with the Colts. I know what you’re thinking…horses in the highly urbanized Rock Creek watershed? She’s lost her mind! But it’s true. There are horses in Rock Creek Park. The history of the Rock Creek Park Horse Center begins in 1957 when the National Park Service announced that they would build two stables in the Park.  The Rock Creek Park Horse Center opened in 1972 with 57 stalls, two outdoor rings, and one indoor ring. The second site was used by Park Police and to this day, provides a training facility for mounted units from the Army, Secret Service, Capitol Police, and police departments from around the country.

Today, the Rock Creek Park Horse Center offers lessons for people of all ages as well as guided tours along the 13 miles of equestrian trails that wind through the Park and pony rides for children. The Center also offers full-service boarding. For more information about the Center, please visit

Horses are strict vegetarians and eat between 20 and 25 pounds of food a day, so should you happen to have some coming to your Big Game party, make sure you have plenty of hay, oats, barley, and corn. They also really enjoy apples and carrots. And make sure you have lots of water – horses drink up to 12 gallons a day!

Eat like a colt:

No Big Game buffet is complete without veggies and dip. Pick up some veggies from Mom’s Organic Market. They carry high-quality products, many of which are local, and they give back to the community.

While you’re picking up your veggies, why not grab the ingredients to whip up a quick hummus to go with them?

Written by Michelle Kokolis. 


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