Red-tails Close to Home

Red-tailed hawk takes off (photo by Bill Barron)
Red-tailed hawk taking off (photo by Bill Barron)

This picture from Bill Barron and 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 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 3 April 2008.

Red-tailed hawks have been hanging out at Fenway for a couple of years.  This spring a female tried yet again to build a nest near the press box.  She was fine with people near her 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 hawk’s boundaries had suddenly expanded because of the nest.

The girl sustained a scratch and was fine.  Meanwhile the hawk’s egg had already rolled out of the nest and was no longer viable.  Wildlife officials removed the nest, as they’ve done every spring for the past few years (this hawk is a slow learner), and the red-tails moved on to a better nest site.

Now for those of who you are thinking, “Oh my!  Hawks really are dangerous!” I want to point out that red-tailed hawks are extremely common in North America — there are about 1 million red-tails in the U.S. — and that on the entire continent this is a stand-alone misunderstanding with one bird.  It’s not a pattern, it does not happen every day, and that’s why it’s news.  99% of the time hawks are smart enough not to nest too close to people and people don’t approach nesting hawks.   Everyone involved in this incident has learned something — and so have you.

A little bit of common sense is all we need to get by.


(photo by Bill Barron)

One thought on “Red-tails Close to Home

  1. Why is it that every time there’s an encounter between wildlife and humans, its always the wildlife that pays???? If the Fenway park officials knew the nest was there and didn’t do anything to discourage the hawk from taking up residence, then they should have been smart enough to keep the public away from it.

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