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Sirk's Notebook Extra: More Bitchy Bits

25 May 1:28 pm

Sirk's Notebook Extra: More Bitchy Bits

By Steve Sirk

In this week’s Notebook, I wrote about Bitchy, the Harris hawk that protects Toronto’s BMO Field from flocks of voraciously scavenging seagulls. Since readers seemed to like learning about Bitchy, here are some bonus Bitchy bits that I didn’t get a chance to include because I needed to get the Notebook turned in.

* At nine years old, Bitchy could very well be on the job for another 20 years. According to Andrew, her handler, Harris hawks can live up to 30 years in captivity. In the wild, their lifespan is usually 3-5 years because of predators and the risk of starvation in their hostile desert environment. A full, natural lifespan in the wild might be a dozen years, but in captivity, Andrew noted that “she eats better than you or I do.”

* If you live in Toronto and have ever run over a squirrel or some other small mammal, you may have helped feed Bitchy. Andrew is not averse to scooping up roadkill critters for Bitchy to feast upon. I’m assuming the phrase “she eats better than you or I do” was meant to imply frequency, not quality.

* Federico Higuain and Matias Sanchez came over to get a close look at Bitchy. She did not scare them away, so Toronto FC will have to find some other means to ward off the Crew’s next generation of TFC-beating Argentines. Bitchy didn’t work with Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Gino Padula, so the fact that the hawk didn’t faze Higuain and Sanchez should come as no surprise.

* If Bitchy ever gets tired of watching TFC lose wants to watch the Blue Jays lose instead, she’ll have to buy a ticket just like anyone else. The Rogers Center does not require any seagull control measures, despite its proximity to Lake Ontario. Even when the retractable roof is open, the structure is not inviting to seagulls. There is too much of a sense of going down into a confined space, whereas the seagulls prefer openness.

* I told Andrew that the Crew might have a need to hire Bitchy, but only if she knows how to extinguish scoreboard fires. He hadn’t heard of our scoreboard fire, so that joke didn’t land. Oh well.

* With all this talk about seagulls and stadiums, Andrew brought up the most (in)famous seagull-related sports incident in memory. Seagulls have a long history of invading sports stadiums at Exhibition Place. Before the Blue Jays moved to the Rogers Center in 1990, they played at outdoor Exhibition Stadium, which sat on the very same plot of land that now houses BMO Field.

In the bottom of the fourth inning on August 4, 1983, New York Yankees star Dave Winfield completed his warm-up tosses in the outfield and then threw the ball in to the batboy. His throw one-hopped one of the many low-flying seagulls that flocked to the stadium, hitting it in the neck and killing it instantly.

The police had the batboy recover the body for evidence, then arrested Winfield after the game and charged him with cruelty to animals. He was released on $500 bail and was ordered to return to court on August 12, facing a jail term of up to six months.

Before heading to the police station, Winfield told reporters, “All I can say is that it was an unfortunate incident because one of the fowls of Canada is no longer with us. I had just finished playing catch with Don Baylor and turned and whipped the ball to the bat boy and the seagull happened to be there and caught it in the neck. It’s unfortunate, but it was an accident. It wasn’t intentional.”

Yankees manager Billy Martin thought the police were making a big mistake, telling reporters, “They say he hit the gull on purpose. They wouldn’t say that if they’d seen the throws he’d been making this year. It’s the first time he’s hit the cutoff man.” 

Charges were dropped the next day.

I also told Andrew about a more recent seagull-related incident in my hometown of Cleveland. Seagulls can be a nuisance at Jacobs Field (er, Progressive Field), and on one memorable night in 2009, Tribe rightfielder Shin-Soo Choo smacked a game-winning hit into a flock of seagulls walking on the centerfield grass. The approaching baseball caused all of the birds to scatter, distracting Kansas City Royals centerfielder Coco Crisp, who still appeared to have a bead on the ball until it deflected off of a gull and ricocheted past him and all the way to the centerfield wall. The run probably would have scored anyway, but it made for some absurd theater, as seen in the video:

Neither of these incidents would have happened if Bitchy were on the job.

* When I asked Andrew what the hawk’s name was, he said, “Bitchy. Everybody knows Bitchy.”

Not more than two minutes later, Eric Gehrig came down from the stands to look at the hawk, He approached Andrew and said, “We need to talk about this hawk. Her name’s Bitchy, right?”

Andrew shot me a knowing look. Perfect timing, Gehrig.

Bitchy originally got her name from her trainer, who felt it suited her personality. When Bitchy got the TFC gig, the club held a naming contest for her, possibly hoping to come up with a more family-friendly moniker. They asked fans for submissions and then put a list of finalists up for a fan vote. “Bitchy” was the runaway winner over “Striker”, “Hawkeye McGee”, and “FC Hammer.” Gee, you think?

So there’s some more stuff about Bitchy. I can’t believe I was totally unaware of her until this past weekend. She’s awesome. Now that I know about her, my dismissive disdain for TFC must now exclude TWO imported, beaked creatures. The other, of course, being Duncan Oughton.

Questions? Comments? Any idea why those squawking, scavenging, poop machines known as seagulls are a federally protected species in both the U.S. and Canada? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo,com or via twitter @stevesirk