Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

It has just come to my attention, dear readers, that two days ago, on Wednesday, federal agents from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Orange County, Florida, shot and killed a pair of nesting red-shouldered hawks, Buteo lineatus (pictured, photo by Bob Gress), after they had previously removed the birds’ nest and eggs. [NOT TRUE: several readers later told me that the nest and chicks remained in place until days after the adults were killed. The chicks, of course, died.]

The birds made the unfortunate choice to nest on the grounds of a hoity-toity golf course, Villas of Grand Cypress Golf Resort, which is near Interstate 4 and south of the Dr. Phillips community. The birds, who were obviously in the nest-guarding phase of their breeding cycle, launched approximately one dozen attacks on guests staying at this playground for the rich and intolerant, holding them hostage.

“They were killed because they were inconvenient,” said Lynda White, coordinator of the Audubon EagleWatch program in Maitland, Florida.

But Mark Cox, the resort’s director of marketing (direct contact information linked), and safety manager, Warren Channell, whined shrilly that the birds posed more than an inconvenience. They whimpered that the birds began swooping down on defenseless employees and guests a few weeks ago, with the worst attack occurring last week, resulting in a guest requiring medical care.

Clearly lacking the mental capacity and moral backbone necessary to devise a reasonable and obvious solution to the problem posed by the two birds, such as relocating the hawks, providing guests with umbrellas to protect their heads or, god forbid(!), asking guests to stay farther away from the birds’ nest tree, these two adult men then resorted to typical thought-free testosterone-driven behavior that is common to eight-year-old boys with anger-management issues: they dealt with their problems by killing them.

But they are civilized and law-abiding men; asking USDA officials to “remove” the birds for them. Thoughout the decades, the USDA has developed an impressive, and rather disturbing, arsenal of lethal methods for dealing with birds and other inconvenient animals, so they were well-prepared to carry out this task.

Red-shouldered hawks are handsome birds with three-and-a-half foot wing spans. They never eat humans (not even very small ones), instead prefering to dine on snakes, frogs and insects. Although relatively common in Florida and other parts of the country, red-shouldered hawks are a federally protected species. However, it is obvious that raptors are not protected when their existence is a nuisance to the wealthy nor are they protected from the whims of government officials. Unfortunately, this government-sanctioned killing of the hawks could send the wrong message, especially in Central Florida, a rapidly-developing region where “golf course” and “resort” are several socially-acceptable descriptions for wanton habitat destruction that results in widespread pollution and human conflicts with displaced wildlife.

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  1. #1 Dawn
    March 31, 2006


  2. #2 Carel
    March 31, 2006

    I’d be interested to find out what kind of medical care was required from the worst attack. I’ve climbed to many Red-shouldered nests, and the most agressive ones I’ve seen did no more than brush me with a wing.

  3. #3 CCP
    March 31, 2006

    Agents of USDA’s “Wildlife Services” agency are always happy to kill! It’s all they know how to do, and they’re good at it, too. Their old name was a bit less Orwellian: “Animal Damage Control.”

  4. #4 John
    March 31, 2006

    This is why we need species protection. Nesting season does not last that long. Why not just cordon off a small section or warn guests to be careful?

  5. #5 dearkitty
    April 1, 2006

    Thanks. You inspired me for my own blog entry on this (with a few additions), at

  6. #7 GrrlScientist
    April 1, 2006

    yes, USDA is REALLY spooky, especially the way they treat animals. i’ve watched them kill thousands of Caspian terns and cormorants in the Columbia River region to protect endangered salmon smolts from avian depredation. oh, but wait .. the salmon are endangered because of PEOPLE — farm runoff, overfishing, dams, clearcutting, and other human-caused disturbances.

    but why were the birds were suddenly eating large numbers these salmon smolts, most of them hatchery fishes? this happened because dumbass corporate dolts dredged the Columbia River so ocean-going vessels can travel farther upstream .. and the resulting silt was used to build a series of shallow, sandy islands in the mouth of the Columbia River, warm, sandy islands of the sort that terns LOVE to nest on.

    can you say STUPID?? i knew you could! so this entire mess was a human-created and perpetuated problem that never should have existed in the first place, and wouldn’t have existed if anyone with any brains had been involved in the planning somewhere along the way.

    but no, instead of thinking before acting, it is far easier to do shit and then to KILL KILL KILL everything that gets in our way.

    and people sometimes ask me why i won’t ever CONSIDER working for the USDA!

  7. #8 Lorraine Margeson
    April 1, 2006

    We will fight to put you out of business………and return your little sports biz back to a wetland habitat………….Pinellas County citizens beat the County over their Ft. DeSoto idiocy…….and you are next………..what gaul, what destruction, what stupidity.

    Lorraine Margeson

  8. #9 Aydelette Kelsey
    April 2, 2006

    Like something out of Lord of the Flies. Hard to stomach but not hard to believe. Bravo boys.

  9. #10 G. Vargo
    April 2, 2006

    You had many choices to maintain a valuable part of everyone’s ecosystem and you made all of the wrong choices. I cannot believe that supposedly intelligent people can be so stupid – both you, the governing group of this golf club and the idiotic federal employees who certainly should have known better. Obviously it was too much trouble to pick up a telephone and call someone who could have helped defuse the situation and pehaps talked with you, the employees and guests at the club to explain how simple it would be to stay out of the bird’s way? No, it was man the guns and charge blindly ahead without a thought given to what you were doing. If you have a consience I hope it plagues you forever.

  10. #11 Carol McCorkle
    April 3, 2006

    March 31, 2006

    I was shocked, sickened and sadden when I learned of the shooting of two adult Red-shouldered Hawks. There were certainly other options! My husband and I run a raptor facility in Apopka, Florida, The Avian Reconditioning Center
    ( and we have worked with birds of prey for many years. Often time’s problems do arise between humans and raptors, these birds are just trying to exist in a fast changing environment. There are many good solutions to helping birds of prey co-exist with people, here is one that pertains.

    Last spring we had a situation very similar to this one. A pair of Red-shouldered Hawks chose a tree next to the entrance of a small local business. At first all was well but when the chicks hatched the parents became quite aggressive. They hit several people in the face and back of the head, and they DO mean business. For several days they did have to use umbrellas to protect themselves and to scare off the attacking birds. The owner called the U.S.F. &W.S. and the F.F. & C.C. and asked how they could best solve the problem. They were issued a permit (which took about 24 hours) to relocate the nest, that is when they contacted us and we were able to help them move the nest. We came to the site and were able to relocate the nest in a new nest platform we made and placed in a tree located in an abandoned parking lot some distance away.

    The nestlings were only two weeks of age so the relocation was easy and the parents quickly found their young and returned to them. We checked on them several times over the next few weeks. There were no more problems at the business and the nestlings were able to grow into healthy hawks. It only takes a raptor 12 weeks to hatch and grow; they are usually gone from the nesting area in 10 to 12 weeks. I am including a picture of the birds as they appeared when we were relocating the nest, one look at these young birds and it is no wonder the parents are so very protective.

    It was indeed a tragedy that 2 adults and possibly 2 young Red-shouldered Hawks died in such a callus manner. We can only hope that the education of ALL the people involved in the shooting will prevent any thing like this from ever happening again. Like many others, we have dedicated our life to protecting birds of prey and I know there could have been, should have been, a better ending to this sad, sad story.

    For the Birds,

    Carol & Scott McCorkle
    The Avian Reconditioning Center

    Sorry I can’t seem to include the picture of the RSHA nestlings we moved last year….

  11. #12 cfrost
    April 4, 2006

    It’s time to eat the rich.

  12. #13 hawk
    April 7, 2006

    What a very sad story, are people going NUTS????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? If I had enough time I would go to the ugly golf resort with a truck and destroy it!!

    HUMAN’S ARE THE ANIMAL’S!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. #14 Shelley Pierce
    April 17, 2006

    Good morning! I wrote the follow up press release regarding the red shouldered hawks and their shooting deaths at the hands of USDA-APHIS agents. I share the story here with you, as well as the link to send complaints to USDA-APHIS. Thanks for following up on this sad caes!
    Shelley Pierce
    I was given this email address for the public to contact USDA in regards to this occurrence:

    April 5, 2006

    A peaceful day golfing in Florida brought humans face to face with two Red Shouldered Hawks defending their nesting area. In Orange County Florida, this past week brought human-wildlife conflict to a head that left the two hawks dead and federal wildlife agents in turmoil over how the issue was handled.

    After more than a dozen human attacks, the red shouldered hawks were killed by shotgun blasts Wednesday
    morning at the Villas of Grand Cypress Golf Resort. The resort had contacted the local office of USDA Wildlife Division and asked officials to aid them in removing the birds. The conflict ended with the hawks being shot and the local USDA Wildlife officials being questioned by an angry public and numerous animal rights agencies as to why this decision was made.

    Bernice Constantin, State Director for USDA Wildlife Services in Gainesville has been investigating the event and voiced regret at the incident.
    ” Our agency maintains a primary goal in these cases. Protecting and ensuring human safety is our top priority. The hawks were killed due to their violent attacks upon the locals. I was in contact with the agents in our office and allowed the biologists to make a determination based upon our issued permits. The understanding of all that the permits allowed for us to do became the basis for some misunderstanding. We believed that a separate permit was needed for relocating the hawks or for other measures of control. Our error in interpreting the wording on these permits is now a primary focus for this office and I am doing my best to move forward in educating all agents to better understand permit regulations and allowances. However, I stand behind the primary goal of our agents….human safety first.”

    Red Shouldered Hawks and other wildlife have been suffering loss of habitat due to the massive expansion in this area of Florida where conflicts with humans have been steadily increasing. During the breeding and nesting season, some birds of prey can become very defensive of their nesting grounds and are sometimes driven to attack humans. However, animal protection groups are outraged at the decisions made to shoot the nesting hawks. Hawk Watch International, Audubon and other national agencies are all demanding accountability on the part of Constanin’s office. Many have voiced questions regarding why other measures of control for these hawks in Florida was not attempted prior to shooting them. The result of the actions taken by wildlife agents in Florida will have long reaching consequences to a nation wide concern of how best to deal with such circumstances in the future. Human-wildlife conflicts are escalating due to the human occupation of once open, wild lands that allowed for species progression without human interference.

    Bernice Constantin also stated, “My office will be contacting our State USDA Representatives to request in-depth training for all officials responsible for managing these conflicts. Hopefully, our future conferences will offer detailed classes exploring the full scope of these permitting rules. Our agents need to completely understand all their options before they confront similar situations involving these conflicts between humans and wildlife. However, I firmly believe in this case, the human safety issue demanded our immediate attention and that was how the agents from our office proceeded.”

    Further debate will be required from all sides of this issue. Wildlife habitat is being consumed at an alarming rate world wide. Conflicts between humans and wildlife will continue, requiring cooperation between federal, state and local agencies. The environmental and animal rights organizations demand attention be paid also to the needs of the wildlife involved. This is a point of conflict requiring good communication and cooperation on all parts in order to find solutions.

    written by Shelley Pierce
    freelance writer from Bozeman, Montana

    Shelley Pierce

  14. #15 hawk
    April 19, 2006

    The State of Florida needs to stop progression on the Wildlife Habitat!!!!!!!!!! We are consuming their land! In the bible Revelations states ‘ When the Birds start to fall from the sky is when the end of the world has begun’. I truly believe that:

    HUMANS ARE THE ANIMALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. #16 DocH
    May 4, 2006

    Ridiculous! A pair of red-shouldered hawks are presently fledging their young from a nest in the top of a live oak tree not more than 30′ from my back door. They have watched me, my adult daughter, and my 2 year old grandson very carefully during this entire nesting and fledging cycle, but the only thing being swooped by the adults is the family dog, and she has not been more than a little put-out by the swoops. A few flops on the back and head with wings is about the hardest hit she’s taken.

    Check it out, if you like, at

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