Red-shouldered hawk attacks Great Falls family

Red-shouldered hawk attacks Great Falls family

The red-shouldered hawk of Great Falls is a moderately large bird, with a reported record of attacking people.

The red-shouldered hawk of Great Falls is a moderately large bird, with a reported record of attacking people.

Fairfax County animal control officers recently investigated several assaults on adults by what appears to be a Red-shouldered Hawk protecting its territory in Great Falls. The Frost family maintains a vigilant stance. They watch the skies and look behind them as the forest raptor descends quickly, gliding from behind and the side and then attacking them. The couple has taken to grabbing an umbrella, a hat, and sunglasses when they go outdoors.

In separate incidents, the hawk attacked Jackson Frost multiple times and then his son, Alex Frost. Jack is in his seventies; Alex is thirty-eight.

"We thought it was a fluke the first time," Jack's wife, Winnie, said. The hawk's name is derived from its rust-feathered shoulders; the rest of its feathers are brownish. Red-shouldered hawks are large birds. Their wingspan is three to nearly four feet, and their head-to-tail tip length is seventeen inches to two feet, although they weigh less than 2 pounds.

Winnie Frost said that the first occurrence happened when the hawk swooped on Jack as he was walking close to the family house, startling him and cutting his scalp with six superficial talon wounds. He did not require medical attention.

"Jack went outside again; it happened again," Winnie Frost said. Because his hair is white, Jack decided to wear a white golf cap. The hawk came down, swooped up his hat, and carried it over the nearby woods. Later, the bird returned to their home, still holding Jack's cap. 

"It sat on top of our roof with his hat, taunting us," Winnie recalled. Eventually, the hawk took off over Turner Farm. The hawk keeps returning to their home, but the couple has never seen the hat again.

Alex sustained a hawk-inflicted injury as he walked down the family's pathway. According to Winnie, her son Alex is a big guy — large in stature. She said the bird came out of nowhere and struck Alex above his eyebrow.

She opined that predatory birds come from behind and to the side, unlike what you may see in movies. Winnie says Alex has warned her, "Better be careful because it's going to knock you over, Mom." 

Possibly the attacks couldl be an annual occurrence, as Red-shouldered Hawks often reuse nests from past years, according to Cornell Labs. The family named the hawk. “We are now calling her Cruella,” said Winnie, after the fictional character Cruella de Vil in Disney's “One Hundred and One Dalmatians.”

When the couple called Fairfax County Animal Control, the responding officer informed the Frosts that the bird's protection prevented any action. Although hawks typically avoid humans, the officer advised the pair to be cautious, as the bird most likely is protecting its fledglings.

Currently, Animal Protection Police Officers (APPOs) handle calls about stray dogs, probable neglect or cruelty cases, wildlife concerns, including attacks on humans and other animals, and more. APPOs are trained law enforcement officers who enforce county and state animal laws. That will soon change in a couple of weeks, however.

After the passage of the FY 2025 Advertised Budget Plan, the Fairfax County Department of Animal Sheltering will take over Animal Protection Police responsibilities starting on July 1, 2024. To start this effort, the adopted FY 2025 budget outlines transferring a position from the Fairfax County Police Department to the newly established Field Services division. The change is expected to take eighteen to twenty-four months, with full implementation beginning in FY 2026.

The Police Department will continue to assist with complex criminal investigations. At the same time, the Department of Animal Sheltering will be responsible for ensuring proper animal care, treatment, protection, and control. According to FXCO, the FY 2026 Advertised Budget Plan calls for transferring the Police Department's remaining funding and positions.