Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hawk watching

It's been a good week for hawk watching. Like the rest of the birds, they're pairing off and getting ready to nest, so they're out and about a lot. The thing that always impresses me about hawks is their incredible agility in flight. They do wild contortions as they swoop down on their prey--wings askew, legs splayed, head tucked and turned; and yet, if the intended victim evades them, they effortlessly recover and fly off. How do they stay airborne? I've never seen one crash, though it must happen occasionally.

As I was driving along the highway a couple of days ago, I saw a flock of black vultures congregating on the railroad tracks. There were about ten of them, grim and homely, jostling each other. A huge red-tailed hawk appeared and descended among them like a rust-colored goddess, no doubt planning to claim whatever tasty dead thing had drawn them there. Hawks and vultures occasionally face off over carrion, and the hawks usually win. This hawk was badly outnumbered, but something about the force of her arrival made me think she would get her way.

The little sharp-shinned hawks are as fiercely acrobatic as the big guys. Today--again in my car--I saw a sharp-shinned, talons extended, plummeting toward the grass at the edge of the road. He touched down for a split second and took off again, having failed to get the vole or small bird he was going for. He barely cleared my windshield as he rose up and then veered off ahead of me, flying fast, a pale blur against the blue sky.

From plane of light to plane, wings dipping through
Geometries and orchids that the sunset builds,
Out of the peak's black angularity of shadow, riding
The last tumultuous avalanche of
Light above pines and the guttural gorge,
The hawk comes.
His wing
Scythes down another day, his motion
Is that of the honed steel-edge, we hear
The crashless fall of stalks of Time.

From "Evening Hawk" by Robert Penn Warren. Read the complete poem at

Photo of a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk from Wikimedia Commons.


Bozo said...

Wonderful post. Mary Oliver has a line, "Nobody owns the hearts of birds." Maybe that's what makes them such objects of respect and, even, of envy.

BitterGrace said...

Envy--absolutely. If I were granted a wish for just one impossible sensory experience, it would be to fly like a bid.