Two hawks that had attacked residents in a Burnsville neighborhood should not have been shot, the executive director of the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota said Tuesday.
Dr. Julie Ponder and others affiliated with the center said there was no credible attempt by the enforcement division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to get help from the Raptor Center in trapping the broad-winged hawks before they were killed last Wednesday in the north Burnsville neighborhood.
"It would have been possible to trap these birds," Ponder said.
DNR conservation officer Tony Salzer said he shot the hawks after they had swooped down on residents for nearly two months, injuring people on at least two occasions. The hawks even dove at him when he went to the neighborhood just south of Hwy. 13, Salzer said.
"We regret that this resulted in the death of the hawks," said Colleen Coyne, a DNR spokeswoman. "The shooting of the hawks was our last-ditch effort to solve the public safety problems."
Ponder said she is frustrated, especially because her center was not told the hawks might be killed. She said that nobody had talked to center about the problem and that while there was a need to intervene, there is also a need to learn to coexist.
As their habitats are lost to development, Ponder said, raptors are becoming more urban, and conflicts between them and humans are becoming more prevalent. Solutions must be found, Ponder said.
Killing raptors, she said, should be the last option.
In this case, the hawks were aggressive because they had a nest with three chicks in a nearby pine tree, she said. Such aggressive behavior usually lasts two weeks as fledglings are learning to fly, not more than six weeks, as in this case. One resident called the Raptor Center, she said.
"Though we may be experts in dealing with hawks, we don't have the jurisdiction to intervene," she said. "... So we referred them to the DNR, who does have jurisdiction."
Still, nobody expected the hawks would be shot, she said.
Coyne said Salzer asked for help trapping the hawks from another DNR officer who is a falconer, but they failed.
"We pursued this situation over a number of weeks," Coyne said. "We always aim for a nonlethal solution to any human-animal interaction. However, when public safety is threatened and other alternatives have been tried, our first concern is for the safety of the citizens. Then, we take whatever action is necessary." She added that the DNR is open to working with other organizations.
Appalled volunteers from the Raptor Center scoff at the suggestion that a bird that weighs three-quarters of a pound could do much damage to people.
But Pete Johnson, Burnsville's animal control officer, said in the past two months, the hawks hit four people, drawing blood from two. He called the Raptor Center, then the DNR.
Thursday, before they learned the DNR had killed the Burnsville hawks, Ponder and her staff met about the increasing hawk complaints, including in the Burnsville neighborhood.
Ponder said the Raptor Center staff decided to try to work with DNR non-game wildlife staff to brainstorm how to educate the public and what kind of intervention and response the center should do, given that it is fielding more calls.
"As other options for nesting sites and habitats decrease," she said, [hawks] are moving into the suburban areas."
Joy Powell • 612-673-7750