The young red-tailed hawks making their home atop the Franklin Institute have drawn quite a human following, turning Saturday's spectacular rescue of one of them into nothing short of a dramatic reality show - both on the street and via Twitter.

It started in the early morning hours when a hawk was spotted walking across Winter Street. As word spread that a hawk was hanging around at street level, onlookers began to gather.

The story of the hawk chicks has been unfolding since March when the first egg was laid. Their tale, chronicled in the Inquirer since March, has attracted thousands of onlookers, some who periodically show up to gaze at the nest and others who watch them via a Web cam that was installed by the institute.

Two of the hawks took their first flight on Wednesday without incident, to the delight of their followers.

Saturday, the hawk that flew wasn't as fortunate.

By 9:30 a.m., it was sitting on a railing near the main entrance to the Fels Planetarium, as a couple dozen people watched and took pictures.

The hawk seemed to panic and flew onto a ground floor window ledge, then onto a statue on the other side of the street, said Kay Meng, of Glenolden, who was there.

Institute officials, concerned the hawk was becoming frightened, blocked off the sidewalk.

"It was obviously scared to death," said Meng, a Catholic school secretary.

Institute officials became concerned it was unable to fly back to its nest and called in Rick Schubert, director of the Schuylkill Center Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic.

The hawk tried to fly again, but became trapped between a railing and a concrete wall.

Schubert raced across the street and with no protective gear for himself, grabbed and cradled the hawk, calming it.

The thirty or so onlookers exploded in applause.

"It was one of the most extraordinary things I've ever seen," said Della Micah, director of college guidance at Germantown Friends School. "He was so concerned about the hawk."

"Usually these stories don't end well," the Plymouth Meeting woman continued. "We weren't sure how she could be rescued safely, but she got trapped just long enough for him to grab her."

Schubert carefully placed the bird in a box and took it to the clinic about 1:30 p.m.

The hawk was not injured, but as institute officials suspected, it wasn't really ready to fly yet, Schubert said.

"We'll continue to monitor it, feed it, and then we'll relocate the animal to a much safer area," he said. "Not inside the city."

The center will keep an eye on the other hawks still at the nest, he added.

"Hopefully, they won't be as impatient as this bird," he said, "so they will be able to fly off and be on their own with less trauma than this one suffered."

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com