Emma Bissell thought a frisbee whacked her head outside Normal Hall. But frisbees don't leave talon marks.
The 20-year-old UF telecommunications sophomore was attacked by a hawk in January. On Wednesday morning, UF’s College of Education sent an email warning students to be wary when walking in the Norman Hall area.
The hawks are back for their annual mating season, ready to dive-bomb anyone near their babies. This is the third year that the same set of hawks has nested, UF’s Assistant Vice President of Facilities Services Mark Helms said. They come every spring for six weeks and leave once they have their babies.
On Jan. 27, a bird flung itself at the back of Bissell’s head, concussing her. She was rushing to her Dance Marathon headshots.
Shocked and confused, she trudged to the meeting, where one of her friends cleaned up her wounds. The hawk left three gashes on the back of her head.
“I was already having a bad day, and it was 8:50 in the morning,” Bissell said.
Three hours later, her roommate urged her to go to the hospital. After waiting seven and a half hours in the Shands Hospital Emergency Room, Bissell was seen by a nurse and found that the nurse was just as confused as Bissell at what had happened.
“She didn’t even know how to list it,” Bissell laughed. “She was like, ‘I guess I’ll put that under attack?’”
The nurse gave Bissell a Tetanus shot at the hospital and told her she had a concussion.
Bissell wasn’t surprised by the email Wednesday because she had heard of several students getting attacked in the last month.
“I don’t think [the email] will do anything because students still have to walk that way for class and to get home,” Bissell wrote. “Also, an email doesn’t stop a hawk.”
While the birds typically return every spring in late March or early April, Helms said their mating cycle is unpredictable, explaining why Bissell was struck months ago.
After receiving UF’s warning, students have taken to TikTok to express their concerns about the hawk hostilities and share their own stories.
Several users commented that they, too, have been attacked by hawks. Others used humor to make sense of UF’s warning email.
Hawks attack humans when they feel they are getting too close to their offspring.
“When they lay eggs and the eggs hatch, then they become very aggressive like mommies and daddies sometimes do,” the vice president of facilities services said. “We will continue to monitor it, and when they move on for their summer season and the little ones are gone, we will take it all down and wait for them next year.”
UF wildlife ecology and conservation professor Mark Hostetler presumes the bird that attacked Bissell was a red-shouldered hawk, but many other birds can attack humans.
“If you get attacked by a mockingbird, you're just kind of annoyed, right?” Hostetler said. “There's not really huge talons on them that could hurt you.”
But regardless of the bird, be on the lookout and bring an umbrella to hold over your head when passing through the area, he said.
Contact Lily Kino at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lily_kino.
Lily is a third-year journalism major with a concentration in environmental science covering criminal justice for The Alligator. Last semester, she served as the Santa Fe reporter. When she's not writing, you can find Lily on a nature walk, eating Domino's Pizza or spending time with her friends.