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Hawk attacks Breezy Point City Council member

While hanging bird feeders on his deck Thursday, June 26, Breezy Point City Council member Otto Schmid was taken by surprise when a hawk swooped down and sunk its talons into his scalp.

"I had no idea that thing was zeroing in on me," he said. "It didn't start screeching until it was about six inches from my head."

The bird's talons left puncture marks and a long scratch along his entire scalp.

"It scared the bejeevers out of me, knocked me right to the ground," he said.

Earlier in the week, Schmid and his wife, Mary, both had close calls with the bird of prey, each experiencing a close flyover.

Schmid said he was walking down his driveway to retrieve his Pineandlakes Echo Journal when he felt a rush of air above him. He turned to look and saw the bird flying down Beverly Drive "right for (his) head."

"By the time I got back to the house, it had made another pass at me," he said.

Based upon photos the Schmids provided, Julia Ponder, executive director of The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, identified the aggressive bird as a broad-winged hawk. The species is present in the United States roughly to the east of the Mississippi River and into southern Canada in the summers, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website.

They live in forested regions and spend much of their time under the canopy. They migrate to South America in the winters, often in large flocks, providing "one of the greatest spectacles of migration," said the site. One of the best places to observe their migration is right here in Minnesota, at the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth.

Broad-winged hawks, Ponder said, have been known to display this territorial behavior, particularly at this time of year.

"It's a very short window of time," she said. "It's when these birds have chicks in the nest. They are feeding them, just being protective of their territory."

Ponder said their logs have recorded three calls so far this year related to aggressive hawks, and although uncommon, "it's definitely something that occurs on an increasing frequency, as humans and raptors and other wildlife are living in tighter and tighter spaces," she said.

"This is definitely an opportunity for us to take a moment to learn how to live with the natural world," she added.

She recommends that given the short amount of time the birds display this behavior, people should try to adjust their lifestyles. Spending less time in areas where aggressive behavior has occurred or avoiding it all together will lessen the chance of swooping or attacks.

"Some people are more than willing to use an umbrella to just kind of protect you," she said. "At worst, they may hit the umbrella, but they probably won't go after it at all."

Schmid said he's been wearing a hat every time he's outside since the incident, and since the bird doesn't seem to like machinery, he joked that he's been "doing a lot of lawn mowing and cutting a lot of wood" to keep the hawk away.

The Raptor Center is not legally allowed to intervene in these situations unless the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) requests assistance. In the past seven years, the DNR has called the Raptor Center twice about hawks bothering several people in a neighborhood.

"If they just think that they are randomly being attacked by hawks ... it's pretty alarming to them if they don't understand what's happening," Ponder said. "These are birds naturally defending young chicks."

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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