Jul 3, 2023 - News

Central Texans face hawk attacks during nesting season

A red-shouldered hawk is the most common bird associated with aggressive behavior during nesting season, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. Photo: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Jean Marchione and Dan Spence's summer outfits include umbrellas, hard hats and goggles.

They're not avoiding any rain or working on a construction site. Instead, the pair have spent weeks trying to coexist with the very aggressive broad-winged hawk nesting above their South Austin home.

Driving the news: They're not alone. Each year, Texas Parks and Wildlife receives multiple calls about aggressive birds, who perceive homeowners as a threat to their young during nesting season.

  • Physical attacks on humans are rare, according to Blake Hendon, a wildlife biologist at the department, and "generally restricted to the period when the chicks are becoming active and are preparing to leave the nest."
  • Hendon said he typically receives two to three reports each year, usually associated with red-shouldered hawks during the spring and summer breeding period.

Yes, but: Hawks, owls, eagles and other nongame birds and songbirds are protected by various state and federal laws, meaning officials' hands are often tied when they receive reports of aggressive birds.

  • "It is illegal to destroy a nest that has eggs or chicks in it or if the fledglings are still dependent on the nest for survival," Hendon told Axios. "Any modification to the nest or nest site would have to occur outside of the nesting period when the hawks are not using the site."

Details: Marchione was first struck by the bird recently while watering plants in the front of her house.

  • "I really thought a crazy person walked by and punched me really hard," Marchione said.
  • Marchione and her husband, Spence, took the advice of birders in the Travis County Birds Facebook group and ordered a hard hat and goggles, but that didn't stop their hawk, which scratched Spence's face as he was taking out the trash.
Dan Spence following a recent hawk attack in front of his South Austin home. Photo: Courtesy of Jean Marchione

What they're saying: "Our neighbors probably think we're crazy," Marchione said of their outfits. "They didn't take it too seriously until I sent the picture of (Spence) scratched up."

Of note: At least two other Austin-area residents have reported similar incidents in the Travis County Birds Facebook group in recent weeks, including Christina Wescott, who told Axios she got too close while trying to take a photo of a red-shouldered hawk fledgling near her home in the Northwood neighborhood.

  • An adult red-shouldered hawk swooped down and scratched Wescott's forearm.
  • "It was my fault completely," Wescott said. "I should've stayed inside and taken a picture through the glass.

Be smart: Texas Parks and Wildlife recommends keeping a safe distance from hawk nests, according to Hendon.

  • Carry an open umbrella, don't turn your back on the hawk, wave your arms and be loud if you're dealing with a nearby nest, he added.
  • Fortunately, the defensive behaviors are typically restricted to a few weeks.

The bottom line: Marchione, who's been on vacation, hopes that the young have since left the nest, but adds: "Honestly, I'm never going to feel safe."

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