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LAW’s Hawks Get a New Home

Wildlife experts remove birds from construction clamor

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Boston University BU, School of Law LAW, hawk relocated construction

Meet Redstone, now eight weeks old. The red-tailed hawk and his mother have free digs at BU. Photos by Frank Curran

Have you heard about the free digs on campus? The one with sweeping views of the Boston skyline, all-you-can-eat dining, and considerate neighbors?

Too bad—the rooftop has already been claimed by a red-tailed hawk.

The young bird of prey—nicknamed “Redstone” by a BU staffer—had been living in a nest on the side of the eighth floor of the 265-foot School of Law main tower. While the bird is a welcome addition to the BU campus, officials worried that he and his mother would be perturbed by the construction of LAW’s new west wing and renovations to the tower.

“It’s a great thing to see hawks drifting up above,” says William Walter, assistant vice president for operations and services at Facilities Management & Planning. “But there’s a balance in nature, and you need to learn to share the space. We figured that the birds would be happier if they were moved somewhere with less noise and disruption.”

Moving the nest also decreases the likelihood of the mother hawk’s attacking a construction worker who might unknowingly get too close to its chick, as happened in 2008 when a red-tailed hawk charged a teenage girl touring Fenway Park.

Walter points to another benefit of having birds of prey on campus: pest control. The flying predators hunt unwanted, disease-carrying guests like rats and mice.

Over the years, BU has been visited by bats, skunks, opossums, raccoons, wild turkeys, peregrine falcons, and other hawks, Walter says. Nearby neighborhoods have reported sightings of coyotes, deer, and even a black bear.

“It’s not surprising when you look at the big tracts of wooded land in Brookline and the fact that we’re on the river,” Walter says. “The campus is surrounded by areas that are amenable to wildlife.”

When the University has an animal problem, it knows where to go for help—the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, more commonly known as MassWildlife.

On a recent rainy Friday morning, Tom French, MassWildlife assistant director for its Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, arrived at BU to move young Redstone to a nearby campus rooftop. He was joined by Mark Terrien, senior superintendent at Skanska, the construction company working on the LAW project, and Chris Rowell, manager of campus and clinical safety at BU’s Environmental Health & Safety.

Boston University BU, Tom French assistant director MassWildlife, red-tailed hawk School of Law

Tom French, MassWildlife assistant director, prepares to move the red-tailed hawk and its nest.

First, French laid out his plan. “This chick is so close to flying,” he told the eight spectators. “Mom might be nearby, trying to stay dry under a tree. I’ll move the nest, and the baby will food-beg. Mom will hear it and come find it in its new nest.”

French climbed into an enclosed scaffold along with a construction worker, whose job was to keep an eye out for a protective mother hawk. The moment they reached the eighth floor, French leaned over and gently picked up the bird and put it into a large bag. The bird made little noise, probably, French said later, because it was cold. He collected the nest and its contents—a few dead mice and parts of a squirrel.

French carried everything he had gathered to the roof of another Comm Ave building, where he removed the bird from the bag. A quick examination showed that it was male and about five weeks old, a couple of weeks shy of the time most hawks make their first flight. The bird stretched its wings, revealing a two-foot wingspan. “Its feathers fluffed up are a sign of aggression or defense,” French explained as he held the hawk with thick leather gloves. He had brought a metal ring engraved with the numbers 877-90313, which he secured to the hawk’s leg.

Next, he climbed out to the rooftop and quickly arranged the hawk’s nest of twigs and leaves. He dropped in the remains of mice and other meals and gently set the hawk down in its new nest. Redstone settled in, apparently happy to be left alone.

“It’s my job to protect birds from being overly bothered, and at the same time let people enjoy them from a distance,” French explained later. BU Today was asked not to disclose the bird’s exact location.

We can report, however, that Redstone is doing well. Lorraine Kaplan, assistant director of LAW’s graduate program in banking and financial law, has been keeping an eye on mother and chick. Kaplan is responsible for christening the young hawk Redstone, after Sumner Redstone (Hon.’94), who donated $18 million last September for the new LAW building.

An avid birder, Kaplan watches the birds from the window of her 15th-floor office. She recalls seeing many hawks nesting on fire escapes over her three decades at BU, but Redstone’s mother was the first to nest on a building.

“The move was great because before, the hawk just had a tiny ledge, and now it has a huge space,” Kaplan says. “Not long after it was moved, it started to fly. The other day I was in Kenmore Square and saw it perched on the Buckminster Hotel, and then another morning I saw it in the College of Arts & Sciences parking lot. People walk right under them and don’t even notice them flying up above.”

1 Comments
Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

One Comment on LAW’s Hawks Get a New Home

  • Judy on 07.08.2013 at 9:06 am

    This is not the first hawk nest on campus. A few years ago hawks nested in the alley between Sargent and SED (on Comm Ave) and Bay State Road. A worker was attacked by a parent for getting too close, and nest & hawks were removed. It was awe inspiring to look up from my computer and be eye to eye with a hawk perched on my window ledge! They did a great job on rats & pigeons…

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