It seems as though University of Miami students aren’t welcome everywhere on campus.
For the past three years, red-shouldered hawks have nested behind the Mahoney-Pearson dining hall, making it clear that the space is reserved only for them. And they’re back, just in time for nesting season.
“During the early afternoon, I remember getting out of my car and walking about 25 feet before I felt something hard hit my head,” said Pete Fogarty, a senior majoring in marketing, who was attacked by a hawk two years ago. “When I turned around, I saw the hawk flapping backward, but I didn’t realize that was what hit me.”
Fogarty continued to walk to class. But it wasn’t until someone next to him told him he was bleeding from his forehead that he realized he’d been attacked.
“The initial hit left me dizzy and I went to the health center to clean the scratches on my head,” Fogarty said. “I was more shocked than anything else.”
And this isn’t the first or last time students have been attacked.
With their loud “kee-ahh” screeching and territorial attitude, the birds want nothing to do with the unsuspecting passersby.
Each time this year, the hawks protect their nest by attacking students; the first and most recent occurrence this year happened Tuesday morning.
The university’s response for student safety: placing a security guard out during the day with an umbrella to escort students to and from the area.
According to the deputy chief of the UMPD, Russell Clusman, the birds attack about six people each year who get too close to their nest.
Yet Greta Parks-Mealey, the director of the Falcon-Batchelor Bird of Prey Rehabilitation Center at the Miami Science Museum, says these attacks are not common.
“These two hawks are unusually aggressive compared to other hawks we’ve seen,” Parks-Mealey said. “They dive-bomb people who get too close to their nest and could even scrap your head or face. But all they really want is to move people away.”
Last year, at least three people received lacerations from the attacks.
In order to protect students, the police are taking necessary measures to make sure no one else gets hurt.
“We have blocked off the space behind the dining hall and have put a guard out there as well,” Clusman said. “We’re telling students to avoid using the path behind the dining hall to get to classes in Memorial or Merrick.”
Parks-Mealey also gave some tips on how to be protected.
“The best thing to do is stay at least 25 yards away from the nest and wear sunglasses and a hat,” she said. “Students should also avoid the cut-through in the fence [running along West Laboratory Elementary School behind the Mahoney-Pearson dining hall].”
Red-shouldered hawks breed once per year between April and July with peak activity occurring between early April and mid June, according to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Web site. They often use the same nest year to year, refurbishing it each spring.
“It seems as though these birds are happy and successful with the location because they keep coming back each year,” Parks-Mealey said. “They’ve adjusted to the urbanized environment and benefit from the situation, like being able to find food easily.”
The nesting stage lasts approximately six weeks, the same amount of time Clusman said an officer will be patrolling the area.
The red-shouldered hawk is protected by the Migratory Bird Act and is not allowed to be moved until the nesting time is over. Only then can the nest be destroyed to try and prevent the birds from coming back. However, that has never been done at this location and is discouraged unless there’s an absolute danger.
“It’s tough enough for these animals to survive when people and our needs are so dominant,” Parks-Mealey said. “These animals are trying hard to live and adapt so it’s important for us to coexist with them because they have a purpose as well.”