San Francisco

Hawk found dead at Dolores Park after allegedly being struck by drone

Hoodline tipster Christin E. alerted us that a hawk was found dead at Dolores Park on Christmas Eve. According to a bystander who witnessed the death, the bird was fatally injured by a drone.

San Francisco Animal Care & Control's Lt. Eleanor Sadler confirmed that the city department found a deceased hawk in the park on Christmas Eve.

"The reporting party said that [the hawk] was struck by a drone and killed," said Sadler, who runs ACC's "Officer Edith" Twitter account. "But we don't have any information on the drone pilot or the specifics of the situation."

If a drone was indeed the cause of the hawk's death, it was being operated illegally.

"[We do not] allow recreational drone flying at any of our parks," said SF Rec & Park spokesperson Tamara Aparton. (San Francisco's national parklands, like Ocean Beach and the Presidio, also ban their use.)

It was not immediately clear which species the raptor belonged to. According to the San Francisco Department of the Environment, red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper's hawks are all common in the city. All are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Melanie Piazza, director of animal care at San Rafael-based wildlife rescue WildCare, suspects one of two scenarios occurred in the incident: the bird tried to chase the drone away, or that the drone operator used the drone to chase the bird.

"Bad either way," she said. 

Photo: Brad Schram/Flickr

Piazza said that she would caution people in general against flying drones anywhere near birds.

"Drones can chase birds out of hiding, resulting in being hit by a car or mobbed by corvids or larger raptors they may have been hiding from," she said. Even if they're not injured, birds can lose valuable energy reserves while evading a drone, which could lead to eventual predation.

Piazza urged special caution during baby season in spring and summer, when people should take care to not fly drones near trees or shrubs. A flying drone could discourage birds from completing their nests, or even cause them to abandon their chicks, she said.

These babies then face starvation or serious nutrient deprivation, leading to metabolic bone disease or improper feather growth, Piazza explained.

"Drones have no front or back, and so look strangely un-animal [to a hawk]," said Allen Fish, director of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, a program of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Even in urban areas, Fish noted, a drone operator should take their drone down immediately if a hawk is spotted in the sky. 

"If you see the hawk, it has already seen you and the drone," he said. "So by bringing [the drone] down, you diminish the chance of interfering with the hawk."

If you find a hawk in distress in San Francisco, contact ACC immediately. Additional instructions on how to properly handle wildlife can be obtained by calling WildCare.

Editor's note: The author of this story volunteers at ACC and WildCare. If you have concerns about this story, email

Observed anything interesting going on in your neighborhood? Text Hoodline and we’ll try to find out more: (415) 200-3233.

Dolores Park Tennis Courts, 18th St

Never miss a story.

Subscribe today to get Hoodline delivered straight to your inbox.