A sharp-shinned hawk made The Goose its home for about 12 hours on Wednesday.
The bird flew into the store about 10:15 a.m. and spent the rest of the day swooping over customers’ heads and sitting perched on aisle signs and other locales around the store.
“There’s never a dull moment at The Goose,” said assistant store manager Belinda Permenter.
The bird, a male adult, was eventually captured at about 10:30 p.m. by Steve Layman, a South Whidbey falconer. Layman said the sharp-shinned hawk, which is fairly common on Whidbey Island, was likely hunting a small bird such as an English sparrow and chased it inside the grocery store. He released the bird back to the wild the following morning.
Layman said he’s had plenty of experience capturing birds in public settings.
“That’s not the first time I’ve done stuff like that,” said Layman, who also assisted in a project that used raptors to scare away smaller birds from a five-star restaurant in Georgia, and has captured birds in big-box stores like Wal-Mart.
Permenter said The Goose’s staff reached out to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which recommended the store turn off its lights in an attempt to coax the bird into leaving through the main door. When that didn’t work, the store turned its lights back on and went back to business as usual. They later turned to Layman to remove the bird. Permenter said that during this time, the hawk’s passes over the grocery aisles actually put a slight fright into some of The Goose’s employees, especially those with existing fears of birds.
Layman recommended they wait until all the customers had left after the store’s closing time of 10 p.m. before making their move. Once inside, Layman noticed the hawk had feathers ruffled on the top of his head which indicated it had collided with the store’s windows.
“He was panicked a little bit,” Layman said. “But the ceilings are high enough. He was perched over by the produce section.”
To catch the hawk, Layman turned the lights off again, donned a helmet with a head lamp and grabbed a tactical strobe flashlight. The flashing has a calming effect on birds, he said.
“It calms them down enough where I can reach out and grab them,” Layman said.
Layman climbed an A-frame ladder to meet face-to-face with the hawk and in a flurry of quick motion, he successfully captured it. He did not leave the encounter unscathed, as the hawk’s talons punctured parts of his hand. He took the bird home and kept it in a dark setting. The following morning, he examined it for any signs of a concussion and after seeing that it was OK, Layman let it go.
According to Layman, sharp-shinned hawks hunt sparrows, which often hang around store entrances; the little guys find scraps of food that fall out of grocery bags or raid nearby garbage cans. Wildlife isn’t always in the wild, he said. Sometimes it’s right at the front door.
“It’s right in our grocery store,” Layman said. “That’s why I live here, just for moments like that.”