The Red Tailed Hawk

By Amy Miller

The lone hawk sat on our swing five feet from a gaggle of neighborhood children. “It’s a juvenile,” my-son-the-raptor-expert declared.

About 50 times the size of the hummingbird fluttering over the nearby hibiscus, it didn’t look like a juvenile to me.

“That’s why it’s so close and not afraid of us,” Benjamin informed me.

One week it’s stink bugs, the next it’s red-tailed hawks. Humbling the things your kids know (and you don’t).

When I asked Benjamin how he knew it was a red-tailed hawk, he looked at me like I had asked him the color of Grant’s white horse? Besides large red tails, these hawks have predominantly auburn bodies and a few dark feathers along the outer lines of the wings.

The next day the “definitely a red-tailed hawk” landed in a tree outside my window. Never before had a bird of prey been so near for so long to our family homestead. I stopped friends driving by, called neighborhood children from their dinners and took a number of pictures thinkable only in the digital age. The hawk posed for the pictures, presented its profile and for a week was almost a pet.

And so I took an interest and learned that hawks are territorial and will defend their hunting area; and that red tailed hawks belongs to the group of hawks know as buteos. I learned that buteos rely on eyesight and stealth. They grab prey – usually small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects- then drive talons in to ensure the prey is dead. Accipiters – the other type of hawk – are fast and built to fly quickly through the woods with shorter wings.

It is the talons, hook-shaped beaks and good eye-sight of raptors, like eagles, hawks, vultures, owls and falcons, which  sets them apart from other animal-eating birds, like crows, robins and woodpeckers.

When our new pet decided to move on, it soared high, as hawks do, to save energy they otherwise would use to flap its wings.

These birds, native to North America, are particularly adaptable. They are found in deserts, forests and grasslands and they may migrate or they may stay put. The older birds with established territories sometimes choose to stay. After I hadn’t seen the hawk in awhile, I assumed it had joined the majority that migrate south.

Then, a week ago, the hawk reappeared, back on the giant maple with its leaves almost all fallen. I welcomed our pet back home.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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