Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Red-shouldered Hawks at a Fairfield High School

It’s only January, barely the start of breeding season, but a pair of territorial hawks have been strafing students at Fairfield Ludlowe High in recent days, raising the level of angst among students and teachers. Last week one of the hawks reportedly landed on a student’s head; this week one swooped down and grazed another student’s head.

Police were called to the scene (although to do what is unclear). The Connecticut Post wrote about it twice, the second time catching the attention of the New York City media. Today, WCBS 880, Fox 5 News, and WCBS Channel 2 news were all at the school.

Coincidentally our Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary is just up Unquowa Road from the school, and the reporters made the most of it, interviewing Milan Bull, our senior director of science and conservation.

Milan’s opinion? It’s very unusual behavior (the birds, that is, not the media).

“It’s rare that red-tailed hawks become aggressive on their territory, but it does happen. This particular pair became aggressive last year defending a nest that was right next to the high school. And now, although it’s early in the nesting season, they’re setting up their territory and are becoming aggressive towards people who are coming close to the nest.

“They’re trying to send a warning, but they will make contact. It’s a brief contact, but it’s a very surprising contact when you get hit in the back of the head with a couple pounds of red-tailed hawk.”

Interestingly, when Channel 2’s Mark Morgan showed up, he asked if we were sure the hawks were red-tails, as was reported. Nobody at Connecticut Audubon had actually seen them, so all we knew was what we were told.

Mark said he himself is a birder and that these hawks -- which he got a good look at -- had banded tails, rather than red tails, and that he was pretty sure they were red-shouldered hawks. He described them to Milan, who agreed that from Mark’s description they seemed like red-shouldered hawks rather than red-tails: Buteo lineatus rather than Buteo jamaicensis.

But his main opinion didn’t change: It was still very unusual behavior.

State environmental officials may try to remove the nest, assuming there is a nest and assuming they can find it. Milan’s advice for people in the area: stay alert and, if you see a hawk swooping towards you, put your hands in the air.

Here’s a link to the WCBS story, with audio; and here’s the latest Connecticut Post story.

Tom Andersen
Director of Communications and Community Outreach

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