3 hawks take over Syracuse University campus during summer, prompting warning signs

Casey Russell | Head Illustrator

Signage placed around the Syracuse University campus is intended to alert drivers on campus that fledgling hawks often fly low and have been known to hit cars.

Summers at Syracuse University are often associated with college tours, construction and a noticeably empty campus. Not birds.

In the absence of students, though, red-tailed hawks nicknamed Otto, SU-Sue and SUNY take over the Hill. The birds nest and lay eggs on campus every summer. Signs have been posted near Lyman Hall reading “Beware, Low Flying Hawks.”

While some people might worry that the birds will snatch up pets or other small animals, Geoff Holroyd, a retired research scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Service, said such behavior would be unusual.

“The red-tailed hawks have relatively weak feet for a large hawk … a small dog would be pretty heavy for them,” Holroyd said. “The bulk of their diet are small mammals like mice, voles, possibly small squirrels.”

Holroyd said the signs are most likely up because the hawks are breeding and younger hawks will be fledging. Young hawks, often called fledglings or juvies, are watched closely by their parents when first leaving the nest. Adult hawks could swoop down to defend their children if they felt the fledglings were threatened.

“The swooping doesn’t mean they are looking for food or that they’re going to try and kill the person or the dog,” Holroyd said. “It means they are trying to discourage the intruder from being there.”


Courtesy of Trudi Porter and Syracuse Hawk Chatters

In an effort to avoid an unsettling confrontation with an angered hawk, Anne Marie Higgins, the SU alumna who funded the installment of this year’s university hawk Nest Cam, had a few tips for people in the Syracuse area this summer.

Higgins said people should try not to get too close to the hawks. She added that if the birds are on the ground, keep a safe distance away. Local hawk enthusiasts, profiled by The Daily Orange earlier this year, don’t want people to view the signage as marking a danger zone.

“The wording of those signs is unfortunate” said Nancy Schreher, co-founder of the Syracuse Hawk Chatters Facebook group.

She said the signage is intended to alert drivers on campus that fledglings often fly low and have been known to hit cars. Schreher added that the hawk group and SU officials have discussed hawk safety in the past.

Windows also pose a risk to hawks. Last summer Beau, a juvenile hawk, was found dead after hitting a Physics Building window, Schreher said.

“People I talked with thought that people had to ‘beware’ of the hawks, when really they need to be aware of the hawks,” Schreher said.


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