A pair of hawks that turned aggressive and repeatedly dive-bombed residents of a Burnsville neighborhood were shot dead this week by a DNR officer after attempts to relocate the birds failed.
For weeks, the reports came in about the broad-winged hawks dive-bombing dozens of people, hitting four of them and inflicting two scalp wounds that bled. The hawks had built their nest in a tree in a front yard, and the owner of the house, his teen daughter and a neighbor were among those attacked, said conservation officer Tony Salzer of the state Department of Natural Resources.
Salzer shot the hawks on Wednesday -- but not until after they dove at him, too.
The hawks had apparently attacked because people had come too close to the nest where their two fledglings were ready to spread their wings.
"They were upset about getting attacked for six-and-a-half weeks," Salzer said of the homeowners.
DNR officers worried that more people or pets could be injured should the dive-bombing be allowed to continue in the neighborhood, which is just south of Hwy. 13. Salzer would not give the exact location.
Salzer and others first tried without success to trap and relocate the raptors. Once that failed, Salzer shot one hawk on Wednesday in the hope that the second would mellow out. But it remained aggressive, attacking Salzer and the neighbors, so 30 minutes later, he shot it as well.
"When human safety is threatened, and our conservation officers feel like they need to take action, then they are empowered to do that," said Colleen Coyne, a DNR spokeswoman. "Our first duty is to protect the health and the welfare of the citizens."
Hawks are known to be territorial and will swoop down to scare off predators -- but to attack humans in a suburban neighborhood is rare, especially when the chicks have already learned to fly, said Lori Naumann, a spokeswoman for the DNR's nongame program.
Broad-winged hawks can range in size from 13 to 18 inches and have wing spans up to 40 inches. They typically inhabit forests, swooping down to capture shrews and other prey, including frogs, mice, shrews, snakes and bugs.
The broad-winged hawk has no special conservation status in Minnesota, but as with all hawks and owls, it is protected by state and federal laws.
Naumann, who took one of the calls from a man injured by a hawk, said that the fledglings are old enough to survive on their own. By this time of year, parent hawks are teaching the young to hunt and find food.
"By that point, usually the parents are so busy trying to teach the young ones that their hormones have mellowed out and they're not so aggressive anymore," Naumann said, "so this is unusual."
A few years ago, DNR officers moved a hawk's nest near the Sartell, Minn., paper plant after she dove at people. That solved the problem. The solution was not so easy this time.
"This one was right in a neighborhood," Naumann said, "and it sounded like the hawks just thought it was their neighborhood."
Joy Powell • 952-882-9017