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Campus hawks start leaving the nest

  • All business
    All business  Almost completely ready for life on its own, a Coopers hawk fledgling advances on a prying camera. He (or she) is one of four chicks hatched and raised in a beech tree lining the Sunken Garden. The young hawks are beginning to leave the nest. The parents will continue to feed them until they can capture their own prey.  
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One of the Sunken Garden's Cooper's hawks is out of the nest.

William & Mary ornithologist Dan Cristol had a flurry of calls on the afternoon of June 17. Each caller wanted him to know that a hawk chick was running around the Thomas Jefferson statue and between Washington and McGlothlin-Street halls. Each caller had a question: What should we do?

"Nothing," Cristol said. "Leave him alone. The parents will continue to feed the chicks for a while even after they leave the nest. What we don't want is someone trying to help out and trying to take the chick to the vet."

Cristol, professor of biology at the College, noted that this species of raptor specializes in eating birds. He said that earlier in the day he saw the father hawk tearing apart a bird to feed his offspring. "The air was just thick with feathers," he said. Cooper's hawks are becoming more common in the area, he said. This pair began building their nest in March. The nest is in one of the beech trees in front of Washington Hall.

"A lot of people have been by to look at the hawks," Cristol said. "Even people off campus have called me. One lady yelled at me for not letting her know."

One baby hawk is out of the nest, but three siblings remain. "I thought there were only three babies," Cristol said, looking up at the nest. "but we have one on the ground and there's one, two, three up there yet."

A Cooper's hawk fledgling is by no means defenseless, Cristol said. The chicks are now about as big as their father and after a couple of days, they even ought to be able to defend themselves against most dogs, he said. The other nestlings ought to be leaving their birthplace within a few days.