BAY VILLAGE, Ohio — Wildlife experts were puzzled why a Cooper’s hawk acted aggressively and erratically before a police officer shot it in a Bay Village backyard, but suggested a disease like West Nile Virus or its own survival instincts could have been factors in its behavior.
The hawk wreaked havoc outside the home on Labor Day, ripping a beach towel and charging at a window, according to police reports. A Bay Village officer could not reach animal rescue organizations on the holiday, so he shot and killed the hawk before taking it back to the police department.
A resident of the home, who is a cleveland.com columnist, told a colleague that the hawk refused to leave the yard as she and her husband made noises to try to shoo it away.
An expert at the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center in Bay Village initially believed the hawk could be infected with the West Nile Virus. The virus has been found in more than 300 species of dead birds, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When reached by phone by a cleveland.com reporter, though, the expert said that didn’t appear to be the case after all.
Tim Jasinski, a wildlife rehabilitation specialist at the nature center, said that it’s hard for him to pinpoint the cause of the hawk’s behavior since he didn’t witness it.
“Young birds could be practicing (catching prey) on something that’s moving but who knows what was going on,” Jasinski said.
Jasinski said when a hawk gets West Nile Virus, it typically becomes disoriented. He could not be certain if the hawk showed signs of being infected.
Jamey Emmert, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, said it doesn’t appear the hawk had West Nile Virus. If it was infected it would’ve been in bad shape and wouldn’t survive very long, she said.
“There’s a number of things that can contribute to this (aggressive) behavior,” Emmert said. “They (Cooper’s hawks) are notorious for ambushing their prey. So they depend on their speed and stealth to pluck off prey. West Nile doesn’t really make much sense (with this incident).”
A Bay Village police officer encountered the hawk on Labor Day after a man reported it would not leave his property on on Electric Avenue just south of Lake Road, according to police call logs. The man, who is the husband of a cleveland.com columnist, reported the hawk was “behaving erratically.”
The hawk attacked a child’s hoodie and got its claws caught on it. The husband released the hawk from the hoodie before it went after a beach towel and ripped it apart. It also charged at a window after it spotted its reflection, the cleveland.com columnist said. No one was hurt in the incident.
The husband told an officer that he suspected the hawk had injured its leg, but the behavior it was showing did not match up.
The officer reported back to a dispatcher a short time later, saying he was in a standoff with the hawk and was trying to avoid being attacked. The hawk continued to be aggressive with the officer, according to calls to the dispatcher.
Dispatchers tried to reach out to local animal rescue organizations, but could not reach them on the holiday. One of the dispatchers told the officer that if they could not reach any wildlife experts, they would have to put the hawk down.
“I don’t know if we are going to be able to help this thing,” a dispatcher told the officer.
The officer shot the bird before taking the remains to the police department, the logs say.
Younger hawks, such as this one in the backyard, tend to play with objects such as leaves and sticks and are usually trying to learn survival skills, Jasinski said.
If the hawk had been taken to the nature center it would have been admitted, checked for any signs of disease, rehabilitated and sent it back into the wild, he said.
“It’s unfortunate because it could have been learning survival things,” Jasinski said. “The window thing it (hawk) could have thought it was another bird.”
Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Melanie Amato said the department could not speculate why the hawk acted the way it did, but could say “from experience that aggressive behavior when being cornered is not unusual behavior for hawks.”
Bay Village police Sgt. Robert Gillespie said when officers responded to the scene, they found the hawk to be injured, scared and aggressive.
“I tried calling local rescue phone numbers but they were all closed for the holiday,” he said. “Instead of leaving it to suffer or hurt someone/something, it was decided to put the poor thing down.”
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