A red-tailed hawk. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)
Almost nothing disrupts the hunt of a red-tailed hawk. Living on Earth’s Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender glimpses a hawk’s omniscience, and her fearsome impact on her prey, as she circles from above.
CURWOOD: Winter has already made its way into parts of North America, but as Living on Earth’s explorer in residence Mark Seth Lender tells us, a bit of snow is not going to stop a red-tailed hawk.
LENDER: Red-tail faces the sunrise. Hawks in winter always do. Her bright and speckled breast is a beacon against the grey of early morning. The land beyond is empty. The hills in silence hug themselves. In the wavering light even the pallid sun is shivering. But Red-tail is not. Perched high in the blank scrawl of limbs she warms her vulnerable core in the parsimonious light. Minutes pass. An hour. The sun expanding in the sky. She turns her back soaking the dark flight feathers. And still she waits. And flies, only when she has a mind to…
Over the days, she will patrol the land until its secrets are her own. Where the doves feed. Where the rabbit hides. When the fox heads for home. Then the field is hers. Birds, she takes mostly from cover, hiding then striking out dispassionate as a sniper. Squirrels, more agile, are harder but no match for the crushing power of her talons. She will drop on them from the blind side. They know it, and hate her for it. They can do nothing except chatter.
I once watched a red-tail on a kill she made on the ground, the feathers dusting off the carcass like early snow and the squirrels edged in close to harass her, running in and out. Three-quarters of an hour of this and she’d had enough, and took the bloody remains away with her. If the squirrels thought they’d won some small victory they were fooling no one but themselves…
Red-tail circles a seething wheeling flock of grackles, like a shark. The little birds ball and spread and turn, and turn, and are no match for her. Later, she lands at the top of a low cedar. A mockingbird drops and strikes her, her shoulder, her broad back. She does not even look at him. When the crows find her it will be different. They will not dare to touch her but they are loud.
She will tire of them as she tired of the squirrels, and she will leave.
But then the sun will be down and she will be able to see, perfectly. And the crows will not.
CURWOOD: Mark Seth Lender is Living on Earth’s explorer in residence, and he has more at our website, LOE.org.
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