|By Kevin Spear, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 31, 2006 - Bird experts and enthusiasts reacted with surprise and anger Thursday when they learned that two nesting hawks at an exclusive golf resort in Orange County were shot down by federal agents.
The red-shouldered hawks were killed Wednesday morning near the clubhouse of the Villas of Grand Cypress Golf Resort near Interstate 4 and south of the Dr. Phillips community. About a dozen guests had complained of being attacked.
The mating hawks, which can be fiercely protective, had just begun their nesting season and were guarding eggs.
"They were killed because they were inconvenient," said Lynda White, coordinator of the Audubon EagleWatch program in Maitland.
But Mark Cox, the resort's director of marketing, and safety manager Warren Channell said the birds posed more than an inconvenience.
They began swooping down on employees and guests a few weeks ago, with the worst attack occurring last week, resulting in a guest requiring medical care, Channell said.
"He had a puncture wound to his forehead and grape-size knot on his head," Channell said.
The resort asked U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to remove the birds, which can have wing spans of nearly 4 feet and prey on snakes, frogs and insects. Although relatively common in Florida, red-shouldered hawks are federally protected.
After an agency biologist determined the birds were a threat to people, an agency technician killed them with a shotgun. Both hawks were perched in trees in an area cleared of employees and guests, Channell said.
Bernice Constantin, state director of wildlife services in Gainesville for the Agriculture Department, said the shooting of raptors is a rare event.
John White, a biologist and raptor expert with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Eustis, said he was surprised to learn that the government had sanctioned the killing of protected birds.
"This is the first time I've heard of two adult birds of prey being shot by permit," White said.
Constantin said the nest and its eggs were removed from the tree. He wasn't certain what became of the eggs, although the agency's practice is to hand them over to a wildlife care center for hatching, he said.
The Audubon's White said the hawks could have been captured and released at a nesting site elsewhere, a measure done successfully with other red-shouldered hawks.
Other steps could have been taken, such as arming guests with umbrellas or cordoning off a wider swath of resort property to separate people from hawks nervous about the welfare of their nest, she said.
The Audubon's White said government-approved killing of hawks could spread the wrong message in Central Florida, a fast-growing region where development regularly chews into wildlife habitat.
"We're afraid other people might choose this option," she said.
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