The Great Black Hawk which found its way during the winter of 2018-19 from Central America to Portland, and then into the hearts of thousands of admirers, is now a permanent resident. A bronze statue of the wayward raptor was unveiled in its favorite haunt, Deering Oaks Park, on Friday, July 17.
The story of the bird remains incredible: a Central and South American species, no Great Black Hawk had ever been seen in the United States until a single bird was spotted flying over southern Texas in April 2018. Months later, birders in Biddeford spotted a Great Black Hawk and determined that it was the same individual seen in Texas, but the bird was soon spotted flying out to sea and was feared lost. Defying the odds once again, the bird showed up in Portland in late November, and soon became a fixture in Deering Oaks Park, where it was seen every day until the middle of January 2019.
Such a rare bird in a public park meant that lots of people could enjoy it, from hardcore birders flying from across the country to Portland commuters walking through the park to work. The hawk was national news, appearing in the in news media across the country. Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist Doug Hitchcox spent dozens of hours in the park, braving the Maine winter to make sure visitors saw the bird and that everyone kept a respectful distance. Schoolchildren from nearby King Middle School took brief field trips to view the bird, joining the thousands who ventured made the trip to the park over the two months the bird was in resident.
The amazing story had a sad ending. The bird was found frostbitten after a particularly cold streak in January, and despite excellent care from rehabilitator Avian Haven did not survive. State officials announced a plan to mount the bird for display in the Maine State Museum and the Friends of Deering Oaks launched a campaign to build a memorial statue in Deering Oaks.
Designed by David Smus, the bronze statue was unveiled on Friday near its favorite tree in the park. The bird is depicted as it was often seen: chasing after a tasty squirrel (which hides just out of sight on the pedestal of the statue). As far as we know, and after consulting with the American Birding Association, it’s the only known statue of a vagrant bird in existence, and a fitting tribute to a beloved visitor.
If you want to see the Great Black Hawk statue for yourself, it’s close to the southwest corner of the park, near the beginning of the ravine leading to the pond.