Sometimes your blog is overtaken. By a hawk. In your backyard.
This is such a blog.
As my younger son Ian and I were talking this afternoon—he was facing a window that overlooks the backyard—he stopped midsentence.
“—whoa! What was that!? Something just swooped over the lawn!”
Sure enough, a bulky, stubby-tailed hawk had crash-landed in the lower branches of a mostly-snag maple near one corner of the back fence. Beyond the fence is a jumble of trees, giant sword ferns, downed limbs, branches, and twigs—woods, in a word. Above this perilous ground, the young hawk alighted, gripping her extremely dead prize (a young rabbit) in one talon. But the hawk seemed unfamiliar with trees, to say nothing of rabbits. As she hopped around, one of her wings got hung up in a bare branch; the other was disheveled by a clump of leaves.
At first I thought she was hurt, but after peering through binoculars and consulting a bird book, I decided otherwise. My first impression of size and shape had been correct (red-tailed hawk), but the colors were off because she was clearly what bird books call “juvenile.” Now in birding lingo, “juvenile” does not imply “delinquent,” but rather, “has a hard time landing in trees without getting caught in branches.” It also seems to mean “barely surviving.”
By dint of much fluttering, our juvenile finally managed to get her wings untangled from the branches and turned her attention to a late, deserved, and deeply desired lunch.
But the rabbit dangled and flopped below the branch. Short hanging upside down, she couldn’t get at her prize to eat it. She tried several times to sling the carcass over the branch. No luck. Her precarious, one-talon hold on the rabbit’s head meant most of the body was hanging limp. And heavy. Dead weight, you might say.
After four or five tries, the hapless hawk dropped the rabbit. Into the underbrush.
By now the audience included me, Ian, and my husband Mark. (Jordan missed all the excitement, but was regaled when he got home.)
“Oh, noooo,” the peanut gallery moaned. It was obvious from the amount of trouble the hawk had had in a tree that she would be doomed if she flew down into the thicket below. Still, she lingered, peering longingly, while we lingered, peering sympathetically. She turned her head this way and that, but after about forty minutes, we concluded she was never going to be able to retrieve the rabbit without enmeshing herself in the underbrush—and she had just enough sense to know it.
Now Ian was eager to do a little interfering with natural selection. So he geared up with a heavy leather glove (in case the hawk wanted to defend her catch) and ventured into the backyard.
The hawk flew up to a branch a bit higher in the tree, but wasn’t willing to abandon all hope of getting her rabbit. She waited.
Ian sidled around behind the shed, and—checking often to be sure the hawk stayed put—dug the carcass out of the bracken, and tossed it onto the lawn.
As Ian returned to our vigil, the hawk studied the situation. And studied it. After twenty minutes, she swooped down, grabbed the rabbit, and took off. But she miscalculated (or was weak from hunger) and the dangling bunny failed to clear the fence. She dropped the carcass again.
Again, Ian went to the rescue, retrieved the body, and flung it farther out into the center of the lawn. At this point, I had to leave, but instructed the guys to text me when she got her rabbit.
But the text, when it came, read: Red-tail … just flew away.
I groaned in the middle of my meeting.
Forty minutes later, another text: Red-tail came back. Tried to take her meal away, and couldn’t.
(Woozy from hunger, no doubt.)
So she settled down to eat.
Champagne-glass emojis all around! 🥂
We figure once word gets out, we’ll be mobbed with juvenile birds of prey: Dropped your bunny? Free retrieval! Safe fenced area for eating! Plenty of moral support!
… Herrick Hill Haven Hawk Daycare, open for business.
*If the video won’t load, you can view it on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/virginiafherrick