I savor the shriek of hawks
The shriek of the red-tailed hawk lifted my eyes heavenward. The light-colored underfeathers of his broad wings shimmered in the sunlight, and I glimpsed the streaks on his belly and the rufous coloring of his rounded tail. He beat his wings as he tried to dodge a squawking flock of crows. Like little boys pestering an older brother, their attacks kept the hawk from his hunt. On a calm day while working in our blueberry rows, I watched a pair of red-tails soar for more than an hour. Suddenly, one dived and raised a rabbit from a grassy ditch bank, reminding me that, while I enjoyed watching them, they were birds of prey.
Each year in late June, I listen for the cries of the baby hawks that the pair raises in our woods, but I've never located their nest. One time while driving a wagon loaded with hay, I spied the hawks' babies lined up on the summit of our wind-generator tower where they had paused to rest. The youngsters clung to the ledge while their parents fluttered about, encouraging them to take to the air. Finally, one fledgling jumped and flapped his wings. He hovered, and flew near his parents. Emboldened by their sibling's courage, the other two stretched their wings and took flight. Sometimes when I watch a red-tail soar, I wonder: Was it one of those babies learning to fly on Pleasant Hill?
Other hawks migrate over our farm. Twice the greenhouse has interrupted their flights. Filled with potted herbs and a bay tree, the greenhouse protrudes from our main room, and my canaries' cages hang in this sunny space. While eating dinner one evening, a sharp crack! on a window made my canaries cry out and flit about in their cages. My family raced outside where we found a slate-colored hawk gasping at the base of the greenhouse.
Its long pointed wings and narrow tail identified it as a duck hawk or a peregrine falcon. When my husband's gloved hand lifted the bird, I stared into the piercing eyes of the falcon. I felt like Sam Gribley of the book, "My Side of the Mountain." Living off the land, Sam claimed one of the hunting birds as his own and learned the art of falconry.
We noticed a band marked Washington, D.C., on one of this bird's legs and knew that it had traveled far to reach our shores of Lake Michigan. Carefully, we placed the stunned bird on the platform that holds our cast-iron farm bell, a place out of reach of our cats. After a few minutes, the falcon stood up, shook his head, and resumed his travels.
The other night I heard a loud bang and suspected that again a hawk had spied our canaries and thought they'd provide a bedtime snack. In the gloaming, I surveyed the myrtle growing next to our house. I was surprised to find a hawk no bigger than a robin, but he was not one of the kestrels that swoop over our hay fields. Wings outstretched, the gray bird matched the illustration of the pigeon hawk or merlin. I set him on our bird feeder where he could catch his breath.
Suddenly, chickadees fussed and scolded me from the surrounding honeysuckle bushes, and I realized that I had placed one of their predators on their feeding station. But when I approached the merlin, he flew to a nearby tree.
Now when I drive the tractor and mower up and down the blueberry rows, I not only listen for the red-tail hawk's eerie cries, but I also search the sky for these other birds of prey. I train my ears to recognize their calls and hope to glimpse them in their soaring flight. Just as grace notes enrich and add lift to a fiddle tune, the cry of the falcon embellishes the music of my day.