Hawk Cyclists

Hawk Cyclists
 Hawk cyclists. Imagine going on a bike ride. You pedal along, enjoying the cool breeze and sound of songbirds twittering. Ahhh: Life is good.
Suddenly, a high-pitched screech splits the air. A shadow crosses the road and a dive-bombing raptor smacks your bike helmet from the rear.

The scenario may seem straight out of “The Birds,” but it’s all too real for some Pendleton cyclists who like to ride their bikes on Tutuilla Creek Road. A male Swainson’s hawk stands guard there, perched near a nest in an old cottonwood tree where his mate tends his recently hatched brood or soaring high above. The hawks return each year to nest in the old tree and, once their young hatch, the male hawk goes on alert. If a passer-by looks threatening, he sometimes dives, talons first.

“He comes from behind like a fighter plane,” said Mack Temple.

Temple, too, has encountered the raptor in past years but the bird never made contact until this summer, about two weeks ago.

“He’s back and he’s much more aggressive,” Temple said. “He came in from behind and whacked me on the top of my helmet.”

“He screams,” added Temple, noting the characteristic Swainson’s screech.

“It was like getting hit with a baseball bat,” said Charlie Newhouse, who encountered the hawk last week. “The talons went in through the helmet.”

The hawk buzzed Newhouse four or five times before letting him move on.

Tony Nelson rides through the hawk’s neighborhood a couple times each week. On Wednesday, Nelson swiveled his neck around one way and then the other to scope out the hawk’s position, all while pedaling briskly. The hawk swooped once, then twice.

Nelson said he became familiar with the bird’s behavior last summer before it eased up in early July. He spotted it again about three weeks ago and every ride since.

“He’s come close, but I haven’t been hit yet,” Nelson said, grinning. “It gets the adrenaline going.”

From the description of the bird’s behavior, Lynn Tompkins is fairly certain the bird is a Swainson’s hawk. Tompkins, executive director of Blue Mountain Wildlife, has tended injured Swainson’s hawks brought to the center for rehabilitation for years.

“They are really territorial,” she said. “They have a reputation for being aggressive.”

The hawks winter in Argentina, she said, where they feast on grasshoppers. At the end of March or beginning of April, they return, go through courtship and start nesting.

“Now, the babies have hatched,” Tompkins said. “The bicyclists are coming too close to the nest.”

The good news is that the hawk will lighten up as his youngsters learn to fly.

Carl Scheeler, wildlife biologist for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said Swainson’s hawks generally incubate for 28-35 days before hatching. They fledge about a month later.

“Typically, the more investment they have in their young, the more likely they are to be aggressive,” Scheeler said.

The hawk lives on property belonging to Dorys Grover, about three mile southeast of Grecian Heights Park. Grover said she and the hawks have forged a neighborly relationship.

Source: bendbulletin