Apr 06 2008
This awesome picture from Bill Barron and some sad news from Boston’s Fenway Park got me thinking about hawks who live near people.
Bill captured this photo of a red-tailed hawk at the moment it took off from his chimney. Obviously the bird is comfortable where there are lots of people – a comfort level that’s a relatively new phenomenon.
Years ago people persecuted and killed hawks, believing they attacked farm animals, but since 1937 a series of laws have made this illegal. There are still some evil-minded people who rationalize that they’re above the law and they shoot hawks, but this is rare and not often found in cities.
Since red-tails are rather safe in cities, they now take advantage of the food in our vicinity (mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks) and benefit from being near a top-level predator (us) who keeps the other predators at bay.
Which brings me to the Fenway Park incident on April 3rd.
Red-tailed hawks have been hanging out at Fenway for a couple of years. This spring a female built a nest near the press box. She was fine with people’s presence until she laid an egg. As soon as she became a mother her protective instincts kicked in. “Don’t get near my nest!”
Unfortunately a middle school girl got too close during a tour and the hawk told her to back off in the only way she knew how – she swooped down and used her talons. It was a huge misunderstanding. The hawk didn’t realize that people couldn’t honor her nesting boundaries at a place like Fenway and the people didn’t understand that the boundaries had expanded because of the nest. The hawk lost everything. Her nest and egg were removed.
Now for those of who you are thinking, “Oh my, hawks really are dangerous!” I want to point out that on the entire continent of North America this is a stand-alone misunderstanding between people and a bird. It’s not a pattern, it doesn’t happen every day and that’s why it’s news. 99% of the time hawks are smart enough not to nest near people and people are smart enough to stay clear of nesting hawks. Everyone involved in this has learned something – and so have you.
A little bit of common sense is all we need to get by.