KINGSTON, Mass. — Last Saturday morning, Sean O'Brien learned that sometimes the pecking order favors birds over humans.
“I was over by the trash barrel and I was bent down and I felt like I got punched in the head,” said O’Brien. “And then I saw a hawk fly off my head and up into the trees and into the woods.”
That ‘punch’ left a scratch mark down the center of O’Brien’s scalp.
The nature of the attack suggests a Broad-winged Hawk may have a nest in the yard, said Marion Larson from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. It’s a species common in the state - and one known to aggressively guard nests containing chicks, she added.
O’Brien, who has four young children, wasn’t concerned about the attack until it happened again. This time, he was cleaning the stairs leading from the driveway to the family pool.
“The bird hit me off the back of the head again, again feeling like I got punched in the head,” said O’Brien.
And this time the wounds were more significant.
“I felt my head, I could see blood on my hand,” said O’Brien.
He shared a photograph of those wounds with Boston 25 News. The top of his scalp is etched with parallel wounds indicative of talons tearing into his skin.
But the bird wasn’t finished.
"I turned away from it one more time just to see what it would do, but I had my eye on it," O'Brien said. "It came back towards me again. And then I started waving at it and it deflected back up into the sky."
Fearful the hawk might attack one of his children, O'Brien called several state, federal and local agencies to see if anything could be done to remove it from his property.
The short answer was no.
“The consensus was it’s a hawk, it’s a migratory bird, it’s protected,” said O’Brien. “You can’t harm it... if you do, you’re in trouble. And they told me to stay out of the area. And I tried to tell them, ‘Well, the area is my driveway.‘”
Larson confirms that all raptors are protected birds under various federal and state statutes. And as a migratory bird, the Broad-winged Hawk also falls under the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which basically bans all harmful activities against migratory birds unless a waiver is granted.
State law prohibits relocating nests, as well, Larson said, and it’s futile to relocate birds anyway. Larson said a hawk was once moved from Fenway Park to the New York border and within a short time made its way back to the ballpark.
The O'Brien children have started wearing hats -- which Larson said is one way to protect yourself from a hostile hawk. "That way it can't scratch you or hurt us hard," said 7-year-old Will O'Brien.
All are waiting for the day when the chicks leave the nest -- because that's when hawks shift out of heavy parenting mode.
Larson said with Broad-winged Hawks that usually takes about seven weeks after hatching, so sometime in July.
Which might not seem a long time away, unless you’re constantly looking over your shoulder like the O’Brien’s are.
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