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Giants' New Left Fielder Only Catches Fowls

Team hopes hawk named Bruce Lee will solve its gull problems

Here’s the scouting report for Bruce Lee, the new left-fielder for the San Francisco Giants: young, fast, aggressive, good wing, a real ball hawk. Opponents unlikely to risk stealing. In short, Bruce Lee is a potential late-inning game-changer as the Giants prepare to open the 2012 baseball season at AT&T Park.

The scouting report has only one potential weakness: Bruce Lee only catches fowls. But that is exactly what the Giants need to defeat a growing problem with pigeons and with seagulls that swoop down on the stadium in late innings, stealing French fries and bombarding fans with their messes.

Gleeful Giants officials named the young red-tailed hawk after the famous San Francisco-born martial artist, after watching the bird catch and devour pigeons that soil the ballpark and steal grass seeds from its turf.

“It’s a warrior,” said Jorge Costa, the Giants operations director. “You don’t mess with it.”

The hawk, which took up a perch high above the third-base side of the park in November, has been spotted in the skies above the ballpark in aerial duels with crows and gulls. But, for the most part, “whenever it’s even remotely in the area,” Costa said, “there is no bird activity of any kind here.”

The real test of the raptor’s usefulness will come Monday evening, when the Giants host an exhibition game against the Oakland Athletics. The season opener at AT&T Park is scheduled for April 13 against the Pirates.

Seagulls have been a growing problem since the waterfront ballpark opened in 2000, and they have a renowned knack for showing up during the ninth inning, expectantly hovering over the stands and sending fans home covered with guano.

The problem grew so serious last year — with greedy gulls sometimes diving into the stands for garlic fries and hot dogs before the games were over — that the team opened talks with a falconer in hopes that he could chase them away during games this season.

But the costs of hiring the falconer turned out to be “prohibitive,” according to Costa, who said the team might use remote-controlled aircraft disguised as falcons to scare away the gulls if Bruce Lee fails to perform.

“We just hope that it works out,” Costa said. “We’ll see.”

The hawk generally visits the ballpark for a few days and then disappears for a few days, according to Costa. He said the team built a box for it to nest in on one of its favorite light towers along the third base line.

But until this week, when The Bay Citizen sent photographs of the bird to experts, the Giants thought Bruce Lee was a peregrine falcon.

Sea Gulls 02

That means that the franchise will need to build a different type of platform if it is to woo the bird to nest at the ballpark, said Allen Fish, director of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory.

The hawk’s plumage lacks the species’ distinctive red tail, indicating that it is less than a year old and not yet nesting, according to Fish.

The hawk might be ready to nest a year from now, but a shortage of trees around AT&T Park means that it’s unlikely to do so there, Fish said. He said introducing ground squirrels and gophers to nearby landscaping could help convince Bruce Lee to stick around, although that would be unpopular with landscapers.

A pair of red-tailed hawks nested at Candlestick Park before the Giants moved to the waterfront, and Fish said the birds can be comfortable with the noise and lights generated by humans.

“If they choose to be in a human setting with human noises and human disruption, they seem to do fine,” Fish said. “If they’re found out in a remote area and suddenly you bring the human activity to them, they will tend to freak out a little bit.”

The birds, which grow to a couple of feet in length, are found from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast. They nest in cactuses in Mexico, on rocks in the tundra of Alaska and on building facades in New York City.

“Red-tailed hawks are the everyhawk,” Fish said. “They’re tremendously adaptable and ubiquitous and they seem mostly fairly tolerant of humans.”

"Bruce Lee" - AT&T Park Hawk

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