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Nesting hawks attack passersby at New Mexico university

(Reuters) - A family of hawks protecting their nest at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces have attacked at least six people in recent weeks, leaving one person dazed, a doctor at the campus said on Friday.

The Swainson's hawks - two adults and three babies - set up their nest in a tree above a sidewalk that runs along a parking area near an aquatics center and a gymnasium, said Justin Bannister, a school spokesman.

Bannister added that he had never known of the birds of prey swooping down on people at the school before this summer.

Since about three weeks ago, at least six people have been struck in the head and cut by the birds, said Dr. Benjamin Diven, the medical director of the school's clinic, which received five of those patients.

"They're not serious injuries. They're rather unsettling though," he said. "People are a little upset, you can imagine, being hit by a hawk in the middle of the day."

One person struck in the head was left dazed but without any concussion, and no one required stitches, Diven said. The adult birds are guarding their nest, and signs have been put up warning people to avoid the area, university officials said.

"Nobody wants them moved or hurt or anything, even the people who are injured are fairly tolerant of their presence," Diven said.

Bannister said he did not know exactly how big these particular birds are, but a Swainson's hawk can weigh between 1-1/2 and three pounds.

After they go through their nesting cycle, the birds now taking up residence at the university will begin their winter migration in the coming weeks, as they head for sunnier climes in Argentina, school officials said.

The fall session begins next week at New Mexico State University.

Hawks are known on rare occasions to attack people, even in the most urban of environments.

In May, a red-tailed hawk swooped down on a woman in Brooklyn, New York, leaving her head bloodied, according to local television station WABC.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Beech)

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