Kathy Baker was taking her daily walk through her Shawondasee Road neighborhood Tuesday afternoon when something flashed by her face and cut the left side of her head. The injury was severe enough to send her to the hospital, where doctors cleaned the wound and gave her a tetanus shot. Baker immediately knew what hit her - the talons of the red-tailed hawk that police say has attacked at least five people in the neighborhood since summer.
"I know the people it's happened to so I thought it might happen to me sooner or later," Baker said Wednesday as she resumed her walk through the neighborhood. "I just hope they can do something to get rid of it."
The attacks prompted police Wednesday to warn residents in the area to be mindful of the hawk. In addition, Superintendent of Schools Leanne Masterjoseph said recess and physical education for students at the nearby Deans Mill School will be held indoors.
Police Captain Jerry Desmond said there have been more attacks dating back to the summer. The hawk repeatedly charged a boy as he walked to his bus stop and took his hat. It snatched a pair of headphones and knocked the eyeglasses off a man while he was on his lawnmower. It even attacked a car.
"We're concerned because the bird seems to be becoming more and more territorial," Desmond said.
Margarett Jones, the director of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, said the hawk is trying to protect its nest during the spring breeding season, a time in which males can become more aggressive as they try to impress potential mates.
Animal Control Officer Rae-Jean Davis said she is investigating the attacks and working with the state Department of Environmental Protection to resolve the problem.
"People have said it just swoops down and dive-bombs them," she said. "It feels like they've been struck by a stick or a rock."
Davis and Jones were able to find the bird's nest on Wednesday afternoon. Jones also spotted a red-tailed hawk on nearby Flanders Road.
Davis stressed there are no plans to kill the bird but said its nest may be taken down in an effort to force the bird to move farther away from people.
"It's in a bad area," she said.
Jones agreed with the plan, saying no eggs have been laid yet so the hawks would have time to build a new nest.
Davis said no decisions will be made until she talks to DEP.
In the meantime, police said residents in the area should stay alert. Desmond sent out an e-mail to residents about the hawk on Wednesday. He said police have also used the town's reverse-911 system to call residents in the area, and the school system is alerting parents by e-mail.
"We don't want to frighten children or parents, but we don't want anyone getting hurt," Masterjoseph said of her decision to move recess and gym indoors. She said she will talk to Davis each day to see when the precaution can be lifted.
But Jones called it preposterous to take precautions at Deans Mill School, which is about a half a mile from the nest.
"The hawk is only defending its nest. All the attacks have taken place within a few feet of its nesting site," she said.
Jones said red-tailed hawks are usually fairly tolerant of humans, and some even live in New York City.
But, she said, the hawks are now entering breeding season, a time in which their hormone levels are high and they are engaging in courtship and nest building.
She said that as part of the courtship ritual and to show females they will protect the chicks, males can engage in dramatic aerial displays and try to scare off people who walk by.
"He's giving them a scare and trying to escort people away," said Jones, who once had her scalp cut by a red-tailed hawk in Mystic. "It's usually fairly short-lived during the breeding season."
She said hawks can also exhibit similar behavior after chicks are born.
Jones noted, "Anyone walking under the nest is a threat."