Swainson’s hawks are a common sight at the Great Falls, Mont., property, and have been known to dive-bomb golfers. The course is using special tees and ball markers with humorous slogans to remind golfers to keep an eye out for the birds.
At Eagle Falls Golf Club, a municipal golf course in Great Falls, Mont., hawks are a common sight, the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune reported.
“Anybody who golfs here regularly has a hawk story,” said Connie Cramer-Caouette, the pro at Eagle Falls and Anaconda Hills.
Eagle Falls has been home to Swainson’s hawks for years. Occasionally, the birds liven up a round by dive-bombing a golfer. Sometimes, the hawks even swoop down and strike a person with their powerful talons, the Tribune reported.
This year, the course has embraced the hawks with a marketing campaign that is both humorous and serious. The course made up tees and ball markers with slogans that say things such as “Birdies & eagles & hawks – Oh no!” or “Use eagle eyes when the hawk flies” or “Play for eagles & watch for hawks,” the Tribune reported.
“We are trying to use humor to get the word out,” Cramer-Caouette said. “You can put up all of the institutional warnings you want and nobody will pay attention.”
The campaign seems to be keeping the birds more top of mind even as they continue to dive at golfers’ heads. Everybody in the pro shop earlier this week seemed aware of the birds, which have been on the course for years, the Tribune reported.
“That’s great,” said Brent Esmoil, assistant field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I applaud them for (the campaign to raise awareness). And it’s exactly right.”
Doug Evenhus, who was golfing with his wife, Erin, earlier this week, remembers a few years ago when his round was interrupted by a Swainson’s hawk, the Tribune reported.
“A couple of years ago, I was playing Steve’s Best Ball, and it dove at me and got me,” Evenhus said. “I thought at first someone hit me with a golf ball.”
He then saw another group of golfers pointing at the sky and looked up and saw the hawk coming at him again. “I was having a bad day, so I was mad (already). I started swinging my club at him.”
Cramer-Caouette advises golfers carry a club or umbrella with them and point them high up in the sky if the bird is coming at them, the Tribune reported.
“They strike at the highest point,” Cramer-Caouette said. “I’ve learned a lot about our critters here.”
Most importantly, Cramer-Caouette said, keep an eye out. “When I’m golfing, I do expect my partners to watch out for me and warn me (if the hawk is out), and I do the same for them,” she said.
She said the birds never seem to come from the front where the golfer can see them, but instead attack from the behind. Some golfers have taken to hanging a pair of cardboard eyes off the backs of their hats, but the effort doesn’t always work, the Tribune reported.
Esmoil at the Fish and Wildlife Services doesn’t believe that hawks only come from behind. “I’ve seen them coming at me when I was fishing,” he said. “It’s fairly rare that they connect with you. It’s the dive bomb at you to get your attention.”
There’s not much the course can do about the hawks, the Tribune reported.
“It’s a federally protected bird, so our options are very limited, and we just roll with it,” Cramer-Caouette said. “Some really like the birds, and others don’t—and I can’t blame them either.
“When it’s flying at you, it’s big,” she said. “A really muscular bird. You hear the whoosh, and it’s right there. It’s scary.”
The hawks first started hanging around the back nine but were kicked out of their nest by a great horned owl, a fairly common occurrence for hawks. Then a hawk’s nest appeared on the front nine just off the third hole’s green, the Tribune reported.
Hawks also have been reported dive-bombing people in other areas of town in recent years. In 2007, Darrell Sunwall was bloodied by a hawk while golfing, but he got revenge by hitting his goal and breaking 80 for the first time in quite awhile. He did it by shooting a birdie on No. 18, the Tribune reported.
Esmoil doesn’t think it’s unusual for the city to have so many hawks that occasionally strike at people, the Tribune reported.
“Hawks in general can be aggressive around their nests,” Esmoil said, although he was mildly surprised it was a Swainson’s hawk because he said they are some of the least aggressive hawks.
At Eagle Falls, one person recently cracked some ribs trying to avoid the bird by diving to the ground. Cramer-Caouette and her employees were laughing as they told stories of hawk attacks recently while looking at the humorous ball markers and tees, but she knows it’s a serious matter as well, the Tribune reported.
“We’re using humor, but we do take the safety of our golfers seriously,” she said.