Hawk Still Flying Free In Library of Congress

Photo by Abby Brack/Library of Congress
College students take heed: Cooper’s hawks know how to hit the books. One of these medium-sized raptors has been holed up in the grand Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress since January 19.

“I just came from the Main Reading Room, and it is an awe-inspiring sight: a beautiful, majestic bird against the backdrop of one of the most magnificent buildings in the world,” Matt Raymond wrote on the Library of Congress blog on Friday. “The hawk has confined its hopping and circling to the cupola just below the dome itself, so curious people in the reading room probably won’t get any close encounters.”

A rescue team, which includes folks from the Washington Humane Society and the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia, has been trying to catch the juvenile female hawk for five days. They’ve baited cages in the room’s dome and pulled a mesh net across the dome opening in the Main Reading Room—to prevent her from descending or catch her should she fall.

Photo by Abby Brack/Library of Congress

Thankfully, the hawk has eaten. Late Sunday afternoon she swooped in and snatched some bait from one of the traps without being caught. Apparently, she’s a fan of frozen quail, rather than live bait. The trap has been re-baited accordingly, and experts are hoping she’ll go back for more victuals tomorrow.
The bird was first noticed on Wednesday afternoon. She may have been driven inside by the cold weather, or been attracted to the pigeons that congregate on the roof, and then found a way inside.

A tech-savvy Library staffer used an iPhone app to make the initial identification. Making the most of the app, she then tried to lure it down by playing the Cooper’s hawk’s call, but to no avail.

Far from ruffling patron's feathers, the bibliophile bird has captured the public’s attention. Visitation at the Library is up, and the Washington Post asked readers what to call the bird. The Library staff have started calling her Shirley, after Raymond’s obscure “Airplane!” reference. Any other suggestions?

A bit more about the Cooper’s hawk, from Audubon's "Earth Almanac," by Ted Williams:

If you feed birds in winter, you may attract wild guests you hadn't counted on, including those that eat the birds that eat the seed. Throughout the contiguous states the most prominent among these is the Cooper's hawk—a medium-size forest raptor with a long tail and stubby wings that pursues birds and small mammals through the woods at afterburner speed.
Attesting to the peril of this lifestyle is a study revealing healed bone fractures in 23 percent of all Cooper's hawks examined. They will pounce catlike from high ambush sites on birds as big as starlings and doves, then ride them around the ground, blue-gray wings spread possessively, red eyes flashing. If you are feeding winter bluebirds, make sure to place the mealworm container far from any seed or cracked corn and, if possible, where it's protected by overhead cover.
Cooper's hawks don't have long talons or large beaks, so they kill their prey by squeezing it or even drowning it, a process that may take 15 minutes. It's not an easy thing to watch, but if you can welcome Cooper's hawks to your backyard as heartily as you do songbirds, you have arrived as a naturalist.

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