We have a couple of new residents in our neighborhood. They live about 25 feet up in a tall pine just across the street from where we live. They started moving in about a month ago. Heidi spotted them earlier. They had been landing on nearby trees just watching, taking in the woods, observing, hanging out. We got a few pictures but they were always backlit, making them silhouettes. But we can see them just fine.
I was chopping wood at the bottom of our hill one Saturday and I could hear the hawks screeching nearby. That is pretty common out here in the country in Lexington, SC. You hear it all the time. But they hung around all that day. As I looked up over and over I could see them doing their aerobatic mating dance, spiraling together through the air, crying out. Oblivious. For hours. The next day it was the same. My neighbor Randy and I exchanged stories about them. Then we could see them flying sticks up the crotch of this tall pine at Randy and Kay’s place. They didn’t seem to mind our eaves dropping or spying. They were preoccupied. They were in their own little world. They were moving in.
Red-tailed hawks are not uncommon. You probably see them often. They are all over North America and get along fine living near humans. These hawks look a little like vultures when they soar. They’ve got big shoulders and flight feathers that stretch out finger-like when they fly. Often they sit in a tree or on a utility pole and just wait. They are patient hunters. At first, like almost every animal that you know casually, they all look alike. They are dark brown above and pale colored underneath, streaked and mottled. If you are lucky enough see one from right underneath, and the sun is shining through their feathers, you know why they are called red-tailed. It’s not red like a cardinal, more of a light cinnamon color. Orange-ish brown maybe. Warm red maybe. There is a dark brown band across the ends of the tail feathers. When you get to know one, it is a special creature in all the world. It is different from all other hawks.
Once, years ago, a student’s mom brought in a red-tailed hawk that had just been killed by a car. It was still warm and limp. She stretched out its wings and my second graders oohed and aahed. She wanted to pull out its flight feathers and give one to everyone as a souvenir. I said no to that. First of all, I wasn’t sure if it was legal. But more importantly, it just didn’t seem right. It was just too beautiful, too regal. Too important somehow. We examined its elegant, curved beak, touched its strong sharp talons, stroked its feathers gently and then buried it outside our portable classroom. We did not take a single feather. But we had that memory.
I have a couple red-tail feathers now. My son found them on the ground. they are beautiful treasures. These feathers I don't mind keeping.
I know I have a double standard. Every year we examine rolly pollies or earthworms or mealworms. I know we must make them uncomfortable. We gather swallowtail caterpillars and feed them up until they become chrysalises. This year we watched a monarch come out of its chrysalis and released it into the butterfly garden of our school. We take tadpoles from their ponds or mudholes and wait for them to metamorphose. I know that every creature from slug to mole, from opossum to wild boar has it’s own particular beauty, it’s own individual form that makes it fit in perfectly into its habitat. But for some reason, hawks have this special place inside of me. They leave me a little breathless, a little in awe. It’s one of those weird feelings, like if I was to come back as an animal, I would want it to be a hawk. There’s nothing scientific or even intelligent about that thought. It just is.
Anyway, a new couple moved in across the street. We really don’t like seeing into our neighbor’s homes. That’s why we moved out into the country. But in this case, I don’t mind looking out my bedroom window or sitting on the front porch and seeing exactly what the neigbors are up to. I think they’ll be having a family real soon. I can’t wait.