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Friday, February 29, 2008

These legal eagles are....hawks

Red-tailed hawks find comfort in statue’s arms

By Ed Stannard
Register Metro Editor
— With all the talk of a housing slump, it’s nice to know a pair of red-tailed hawks are fixing up the old place on the Elm Street courthouse, looking ready to start a family.
They’re moving in even though there’s a renovation job scheduled for the Suprior Court building. Whether the work will interfere with the birds’ plans will play out this spring under the watchful gaze of downtown visitors and workers.
Susan Lucibelli first saw hawks in the nest last spring from her office on the 18th floor of the Connecticut Financial Center on Church Street. It didn’t appear that they had any offspring, though.
Then she saw a pair, possibly the same ones, last week. “I was thrilled that they came back,” Lucibelli said. “I thought they had abandoned the nest.”
“I think it’s really great we have the New Haven version of Central Park’s Pale Male,” said Dori Sosensky of East Haven, a member of the New Haven Bird Club, speaking about the famous New York City hawk. “It would be really great for people to get over to see them and to watch them.”
New Haven’s hawks have their own unique charm. Their roost is nestled in the arm of a figure on the 1909 courthouse’s frieze, which appears to be watching them with a nurturing gaze.
“I grew up in the suburbs,” said Will Sanchez of New Haven, who was handing out hot soup on the Green Thursday with fellow members of Teen Challenge. “I grew up in Storrs myself. … It’s nice to really see a bird like that take residence in the city.”
“I have seen them in the tree and they watch the pigeons,” said David Adams of New Haven, who was pouring soup and coffee. “It’s nice to see. It brings a beauty to the area.”
Adams also has seen what hunters the hawks are as they put fear into the Green’s resident pigeons. “They grab them right out of midair,” he said.
Jim Zipp, owner of the Fat Robin Wild Bird Nature Shop in Hamden, photographs hawks and other raptors, and said the female hawk — which is larger than the male — should lay her eggs in about a month.
“But they start to hang around the nest now,” he said. “The pair are bonding, starting to get used to each other again.”
The scaffolding on the courthouse, which has been up for a few years, concerns Lucibelli, however. She’s worried “that they’re going to abandon the eggs or something if they get scared because of all the pounding or whatever they’re going to do there.”
Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, a spokeswoman for the state Judicial Branch, said money for the renovations was approved by the state Bond Commission in January and work should begin this spring.
“If there’s birds there when we get ready to start, then we’re going to talk to the DEP about what to do,” she said.
She said it’s hard to know now what the birds will do.
“Nobody wants to hurt the birds … but it’s hard to say what you’re specifically going to do when you don’t know what you’re facing.”
Julie Victoria of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said if the hawks stay, it could be four months before their young leave the nest.
“They probably aren’t going to lay eggs until March or April, then they’re going to need 30 days for them to hatch,” she said. Fledging probably will go on for another two months, she added.
She said the best thing for the Judicial Branch to do would be to start work immediately, so the hawks can find a new place to build a nest. If workers wait until eggs are in the nest, they will need a permit to disturb them.
“It’s illegal to take the eggs or chicks of a migratory bird,” she said. Beginning work nearby once the eggs are laid would be problematic, because the hawks would want to protect their young, she said.
Red-tailed hawks, the most common hawks in North America, have a wing span of more than 4 feet and feed on squirrels and other rodents, as well as pigeons, making the Green a perfect neighborhood.
Victoria said red-tails are common in the state.
“You can’t go down a highway in Connecticut without seeing a red-tailed hawk,” she said.
Ed Stannard can be reached at or 789-5743.