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Removal of a Hawk From a Retail Store



11.02.2006 - I got a call today about a hawk stuck in a retail store. I arrived on the scene - a trendy shopping district in Orlando, and entered the address - an Aeropostale clothing store. Sure enough, I saw a hawk perched amongst the rafters at the ceiling of the building (see upper left). Apparently the store managers had left the door open, and the bird was flying low and erratically because it was carrying its favorite prey in its talons: a pigeon. Perhaps other pigeons were chasing the hawk (a behavior I've seen several times, once a hawk has a victim in its claws) and the hawk was trying to elude the tormentors. Regardless, it flew low and into the open door, and then like a lobster in a lobster trap, it didn't know how to get back out. Birds in buildings have the instinct to go up. They don't realize that they've got to fly down in order to find an exit.

When I saw it, I identified it as a Cooper's Hawk. It was distressed, as birds stuck in buildings usually are. Since it didn't know how to get out, it continually circled around the rafters, expertly maneuvering between them, and landing on various beams here and there. The ceiling was about 30 feet high. I got a ladder and placed it in the store, near one of the corners that the hawk seemed to prefer to perch on (see upper right).

Usually, the best way to catch a loose bird in a building is to use a mist net. A mist net is composed of very thin material that a bird cannot see, and the bird flies into it and gets stuck, and can then be removed, detangled, and released. However, I didn't have a mist net. I only had small butterfly nets. My only hope was to catch this speed demon on the wing or on the perch. Hawks are fast and alert, and after a while up on the ladder, I realized that the situation was futile. The cautious bird didn't even want to land near me. I got down and grumbled and muttered under my breath, as scads of patrons at the store gawked. I looked up and saw it perching in the preferred spot again, and decided to give it another try. I bent my net so that it fit between the beam and the ceiling, and positioned the net on the beam, facing the wall. By a great stroke of luck, the hawk flew and landed on the beam in between the net and wall. I knew that I had no time - the hawk never stayed perched for more than a second or so - and I swiped the net into the wall at blazing speed. Success! I netted the hawk, just like I've done to thousands of butterflies and moths in my life. I carried it down, took the photo (lower left) in front of the store, and then got my thick gloves and carefully removed the hawk from the net (lower right) and let go, and it flew off to freedom.

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