A pair of hawks have been divebombing residents in a Gainey Ranch neighborhood in Scottsdale. The Cooper’s hawks swoop residents in the Sunset Cove townhouse development, a gated community along the Gainey Ranch Golf Club.
The birds nest in a eucalyptus tree about 40 feet above a multiunit mailbox. They have taken to giving their own particular type of special deliveries to those who venture below.
They have swooped several residents and have clawed and pecked the heads of at least four people during the past two weeks. They drew blood in one of the attacks.
"These are belligerent, nasty birds," said Alex Dancziger, who is acquainted with them. They attacked him Tuesday.
Dancziger said he cautiously approached the mailbox about 4:30 p.m. and caught a glimpse of a diving hawk just before impact.
"If I didn’t duck, it would have scraped my scalp," he said. The 68-year-old retiree took refuge under a tree across the street as the other hawk joined the attack.
Dancziger took even more discretion near the mailbox Wednesday, scanning treetops from inside his car before stepping into the target zone.
"These are big birds, the size of chickens, but they have claws and beaks," he said.
The business end of Cooper’s hawks, the talons, are needle-sharp and typically are used on songbirds and small mammals rather than humans.
The mailbox clearly is ground zero for the Gainey Ranch hawks, but they also have swooped people along North Gainey Center Drive and at a busy tennis complex a few blocks away, said Fred Thielen, executive director of the Gainey Ranch Homeowners Association.
There is little the association can do, because the hawks are a federally protected species, Thielen said. It’s illegal to disturb an active hawk nest without obtaining a permit, which can be a lengthy process.
Instead, the association is trying to alter residents’ behaviors. Workers hung yellow caution tape and posted warning signs along Gainey Center Drive. The signs state: "Danger! Sidewalk & street closed to all pedestrian traffic. Hawks will attack!"
Joe Yarchin, regional urban wildlife specialist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said, "Generally, this kind of behavior is related to nesting, reproductive, territorial kinds of things. It is rare for them to actually make contact."
One of the hawks’ fuzzyheaded offspring leapt from branch to branch in a row of oleander bushes under the watchful red eyes of its parents Wednesday afternoon.
Cooper’s hawks generally produce four to six offspring at a time. They grow large enough to fly in three to four weeks and stay with their parents a few weeks longer. Nests typically are abandoned after that, Yarchin said.
Until the hawks leave, people can use umbrellas to protect themselves and approach the mailbox at night when hawks are less active, he said.
Hawks often nest in populated areas, Yarchin said.
"We have everything they need — food, water and shelter, lots of structure, whether it’s pretty dense saguaro or trees, anything from palms to mesquite to eucalyptus," he said.
Urban hawks prey on rabbits, ducks and small dogs.
"Our supply of rabbits is keeping them quite happy," said Rick Humbert, association building maintenance superintendent.
He said the pair attacked him last year, when they lived in another eucalyptus tree.