Obviously a redtail

I was at my desk one September morning, when between the clicks of my typewriter I heard an intimate whistle -- the kind my husband reserves for special attention. I came immediately into the kitchen, stopping in the doorway in response to his cautioning hand -- then eased up behind him where he stood motionless, looking out the window. What he indicated, without pointing to scare it off, was a large brown hawk, so typically posed on a limb of our yard maple that he might have been lifted bodily out of Roger Tory Peterson or my old Reed's Bird Guide. The ceiling light was on because rain was imminent, and the foliage outside was darkly dense.

Bob suggested I get my binoculars, but I was afraid the hawk would observe my movement and be gone before I did. He really wasn't so far away that I couldn't make out his details. He was obviously a redtail. His broad wings were folded across his back, and his breast was beautifully mottled. His feet were as yellow as a chicken's, and his hooked beak was yellow underneath.

We wondered if the hawk thought our light globe was another sun -- probably a foolish speculation. Then we considered that he might be injured and was resting where he'd landed, regardless of our proximity. Again we thought he might have become disoriented, since mid-September was the season for hawks' migration. Great streams of them were kettling and loafing along on whatever thermals they could lift into right about then.

If this hawk was immature, or hurt, or lost, maybe he was waiting for some unseen signal from his peers to take off and join the next wave passing over. All this while Bob and I had moved up to lean our elbows on the counter over the sink and were staring boldly out at our visitor. The hawk seemed oblivious, or unconcerned, never moving, except to turn that sullen-looking head halfway around when the spirit moved. (Surely, though, he was squinting back at us?)

Of course, there were no other birds about our backyard feeder during that visitation. They knew better. Usually the blue jays screeched a predator's whereabouts, warning all of birddom that a hunter was in the vicinity. There were no jays, however, at least none sounding off, though several might have been watching. We thought of films we'd seen of African zebras or gazelles -- casually browsing while the lion and his pride, full-bellied, rested nearby. Perhaps our hawk had dined recently and had no stomach for food. Therefore he would be no threat to other area inhabitants.

Besides, hawks don't usually go after smaller birds unless they're starving, Bob and I reflected, keeping motionless watch on the almost-motionless hawk outside our kitchen window. But it was coming on lunchtime for us.

So we began to move about, first backing from the sink, eyes glued to the hawk (sitting there, balefully glaring, like Poe's raven) as we filled the kettle and tiptoed stoveward with it. We thought we might switch off the overhead light but figured that might disconcert the hawk. It didn't matter, however, even when Bob boldly reached up and pulled the chain and the overhead fan accidentally came on. The hawk didn't blink an eye.

On occasion he did stretch a leg, just a bit, or shrug. Or he'd shake some, then deliberately reset his feet so as to turn his body the other way -- opposite -- facing south. But mostly his head stayed down, hunched into his shoulders, all the while studying the ground beneath where scraps nudged off the starlings' tray lay. He simply had no appetite, we surmised, or he'd be down there snatching up something.

We sat down to lunch at the kitchen table. We kept glancing out at our wonderful new friend -- (a hawk is always wonderful) -- who might have been sculpted on that maple limb. It was over an hour we observed him there, while cottony clouds billowed and a heady breeze stirred the treetops. His feathers ruffled, but he just sank deeper into himself, with no inclination of budging.

Bob had an errand to do, and we feared the vibrations of the car not too far away would finally disturb the hawk. (False premise again.)

High overhead, far out of naked sight, possibly thousands of broadtails, sharp-shins, ospreys, and kestrels were gliding southward. Little it mattered to our friend. Until, on his own good time, with certainly no visible impetus, he shook out one wing, then the other, flapped his tail once, twice, up and down, then coasted low -- not up -- into a neighboring clump of shrubbery to the right.

The next day Bob and I joined an area hawk watch on a windy hilltop. With people much more knowledgeable guiding us, we directed our sights on clouds of kettling migrants. We mentioned, with lingering excitement, our lone redtail, hoping for an explanation. Not taking his eye from his spotting scope, the Expert decided: ``Probably a resident.''

He's still around. He hasn't come down to our maple again, but we know he's in the vicinity when the jays dash into the woods, screaming -- alarums he ignores. We see him at a distance making clean arcs in the sky or gracefully swooping. Or perching, immobile, atop a snag at the edge of the clearing. We feel we own him, and we have an immense respect for his independent spirit.

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