This Bird Has Flown

Heads up, all you hawk-followers out there – “Shirley,” the Cooper’s hawk who spent several days in the dome cupola of the Library of Congress Main Reading Room recently, was released into the wild at about 11 a.m. Tuesday in Virginia’s Sky Meadows State Park.

When the bird was taken from its carrier by Linda Moore, the raptor specialist who had been on the three-member team that snared the young female hawk January 26, “It took one look and zapped off into the woods,” said Kent Knowles, president of the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia. His group was contacted by staff of the Library when the beautiful hawk was spotted by a researcher flying across the painting of “Human Understanding” 160 feet above the floor of the reading room on January 20th.

It was never clear how the hawk got into the dome – one theory is that it chased a pigeon into an open trapdoor while exterior maintenance was being done in the area.  However, getting it back out of the building proved tougher than expected, in part because the hawk apparently caught whatever it was chasing and wasn’t particularly hungry for the various lures laid out for it including another pigeon and some mice.

“Shirley” was pretty cagey – no pun intended – about avoiding the snares attached to the baits placed to tantalize her.  At one point she managed to get another meal of quail meat without getting tangled up in the clear fishing-line loops her rescuers attached to the lures.

Finally she got hungry enough to hit on a pair of live starlings in a small hardware-cloth cage similarly rigged.  Knowles said the starlings, named “Frick and Frack” by their owner, Kennon Smith, who employs them in Fish and Wildlife Service bird-banding exercises, were never in any danger, because their lure cage is deep enough that an attacking hawk cannot get at them.

Knowles said the hawk is healthy and back up to a good weight – it was a bit thin and dehydrated when it left the Library, at 424 grams, but was 565 at the time of release.

“It’s a healthy bird.  This one will make it through the winter,” Knowles said.

“She’s gone back to where she belongs.”


Wednesday update — our Library colleague Victoria Hill was present when the hawk took wing and provided us the photo at the top of this post — the other’s by our talented colleague Abby Brack. Thanks to both!


  1. E Manning
    February 8, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Thanks for the update. (“Shirley”??)

  2. Debra Friedmann
    February 8, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    I am a docent at the LOC and I prefer to call the beautiful Cooper’s Hawk MINERVA. She was elegant and regal and reminded me of Minerva standing on guard over the Library of Congress!

  3. sasidharan cheruvattath
    February 8, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Excellent narration of a beautiful incident, of nature, named Shirley coming in to the Dome Cupola, making my mind soar up into freedom along with her in to those woods.

  4. Ellen Tucker
    February 9, 2011 at 2:27 am

    What a wonderful photo. It looks like the surprised cherubs at either side of the motherly female Understanding are amazed by the presence of the hawk.

  5. Jennifer Gavin
    February 9, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Re the name “Shirley,” that’s what the folks at the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia had settled on, and by now they know her as well as anybody does. If you want to know where it came from, it was probably this previous blog post by my colleague Matt Raymond:

    That said, I was partial to “Minerva” myself …

  6. Denise
    February 9, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Wonderful news. Kudos for the LoC staff and Raptor Conservancy folks as well as “Frick and Frack”!

  7. Jennifer Merrihew
    February 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Library people are awesome!
    Let’s work at keeping the spirit of your intentions following in your footsteps. Caring is a gift often going unrecognized. My deepest thanks for all you have done.

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