“Harvey the Hurricane Hawk” became an Internet star after the young bird of prey flew into William Bruso’s taxi cab in Houston. The Cooper’s hawk, which despite the name is female, escaped the storm with the driver.
Video of the hawk sitting in the cab’s passenger seat quickly went viral.
Now Harvey will live out the rest of her days in Oak Point Park in Plano, Texas, a nature preserve with hundreds of acres of wooded area in which hawks thrive.
It’s a happy ending for a bird that survived one of Houston’s worst natural disasters.
Riding Out the Storm
As Bruso tells it, he spotted the hawk while parked and got out to take a picture. As he was adjusting his camera, a cat ran by and spooked the hawk, causing it to fly up and dart into his car. Initially, Bruso was not excited to have the hawk in his passenger seat.
“I was afraid of getting arrested,” said Bruso.
Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it’s illegal to capture a Cooper’s hawk, and Bruso was fearful that authorities would think he had intentionally put the hawk in his car. On his drive home, he said he stopped several times when the rain let up to coax the bird out of the window, but it wouldn’t budge.
Eventually, as the storm hit hardest, Bruso took the bird into his Houston-area apartment, where it sat in a corner near the liquor cabinet.
Tucked away on high ground, Bruso said he and a friend rode out the storm with the door open, a hawk in the corner, and glasses of liquor to calm their anxiety.
Seeing his YouTube post, the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition reached out to Bruso and picked up the bird two days later.
Bruso said he felt relieved once the bird was gone. Flooding was quickly becoming a problem in his neighborhood, and he didn’t know if he would be able to take care of a bird of prey if forced to evacuate.
“I needed to take care of myself, and I would’ve felt bad if something happened to her,” he said.
Harvey’s journey to Plano, about 250 miles north of Houston, was a long one. Major habitat destruction from Hurricane Harvey and Houston’s resulting floods made much of that area unsuitable for wildlife releases, according to Eric Neupert, director of the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center that released Harvey. The center has received three raptors from the Houston area and said other wildlife refuges are taking in animals such as possums and raccoons.
It has been roughly three weeks since Harvey was able to fly freely. The bird was brought into captivity shortly after hitching its ride on August 25.
“[Cooper’s hawks] are high-stress birds. It’s very tightly wound,” said Neupert. “In captivity it bashes around a lot and flies really fast. It can injure itself from being around humans.”
Neupert suspects the hawk only appeared calm with Bruso because it was extremely exhausted and stressed from the hurricane. When storms approach, hawks are able to detect changes to air pressure and have difficulty taking flight during the torrential downpour. Typically they search for natural cover, but in a dense urban city like Houston, there were few places for the hawk to shelter.
After the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition turned the hawk over to the raptor center, which had a larger raptor facility, it was given a full medical exam and diagnosed as healthy.
Comments on Bruso’s YouTube video speculated that the hawk was injured because its wings appeared to hang low. While its wings weren’t injured, Neupert said, they appeared to droop because of stress.
“She took flight immediately” in the raptor center’s flight cage, said Neupert, and plans were quickly arranged for the hawk’s release into a natural area. Bruso made the three-hour drive to Plano to watch Harvey fly into the park. For him, it’s closure on one of the most bizarre and stressful events of his life.
“During the storm, I was in survival mode,” said Bruso, “but in hindsight, it’s magical.”
For the man who became the unwitting caretaker of Houston’s famous hurricane hawk, the hawk’s rescue represents a second chance that some Houstonians didn’t get.
“People lost their lives during Harvey,” he said. “This hawk survived. She can go do hawk stuff now, and I’m glad for that.”