Town cautions walkers to look out for hawks at Centennial Park
GRANITE QUARRY — If you happen to be walking in the Centennial Park in Granite Quarry, watch out for hawks.
Red-tailed hawks have been nesting in the park for decades. A couple times during the year, they become quite territorial around their young.
The town recently posted a note on its website advising locals to mind the hawks when watching the trail because there have been reports of the birds swooping down on passersby. Someone once reported receiving talons to the head from an angry hawk.
The hawks are difficult to see up in the trees, but Public Works Director Jason Hord said they will typically let out a warning cry if you are getting too close for comfort. He said the best thing to do in that situation is walk the other way.
Town Manager Larry Smith said the birds of prey are protected so the town can not attempt to remove them, but it does put out hawk warning signs occasionally and lets people know they are out there.
“There are particular seasons they are more aggressive,” Smith said.
The birds are protected as a non-game species in the state with no open hunting season. It is illegal to harm them.
“There’s not a lot we can do about it because we’re in their house,” Hord said.
Hord said there is typically one report of a hawk diving on someone every time there are new baby birds, usually from anonymous people who observe them performing the defensive swoops. The birds nest so high up in the trees around the trail that town staff cannot tell they have started the defensive behavior until public works staff begins hearing calls or someone reports the issue.
Once the young are born, Hord said, people can sometimes see the hawks circling the tops of trees. He said they typically will not swoop down on people, but are very agitated during that period.
The hawks have even produced their own rumors, including that they may be more likely to swoop down on people if he or she are wearing sunglasses on top of their head. Hord said it also seems like victims are usually older people, but he said that may just account for more of the people walking the trail.
Lucky for people, while the hawks are terrors for mice, they do not pose much existential threat to humans. Adult birds only weigh a couple pounds and Hord said the worst injuries anyone has sustained from them on the trail were some scratches.
The behavior of the birds can vary too. A 1987 study on the behavior of red-tailed hawks at locations in six states and a Canadian province found differences in the way hawks defended their nests. Hawks studied in Saskatchewan were significantly more likely to dive defensively than birds studied in West Virginia and California.
The red-tailed hawk is the most commonly spotted hawk in North Carolina according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Hord said the nests have occasionally attracted the interest of bird watchers who want to see the hawks at home.