You have never seen a better pilot than this, Watch the Gos Hawk go through the trees.
Outdoors: A love affair with those fickle hawks
By Pat Wray, For the Gazette-Times | Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 7:45 pm |
Here's the thing about hawks - I mean, other than their beauty, ferocity, speed and extraordinary aerodynamic abilities.
Hawks are fickle. I say this with absolute conviction. I've conducted a lifelong love affair with hawks. I love them all, though I'll admit a special fondness for accipiters, the bird hunters.
They love me, too. I'm sure of it. Their feelings stem from the fact that I have never tried to kill one, even back in the days when everyone I knew shot hawks as a matter of course.
In return, hawks have gone out of their way to provide some of my most cherished memories. Not all of those memories were positive, but that's because hawks are fickle.
I once spent several happy hours watching a kestrel catch mice in my daughter's pasture, then land 10 feet above me, kill the mouse with a single bite and place it in an abandoned oriole's nest. It was a magnificent gift and warmed my heart, until a few weeks later when a sharp-shinned hawk made strafing runs on me as I sat on a tree stand at dawn. It was a dangerous situation and impressed on me the undependable nature of the animal.
Most of the gifts I've received from hawks were viewing opportunities: the redtail taking off from a rimrock above me carrying a three-foot snake, ospreys grabbing trout from the water 30 feet away, in one case latching on to a fish too heavy to lift and almost drowning.
Sometimes, those opportunities have been just a little too close. While driving near Ukiah, I looked out to my left and saw a hawk chasing a magpie. They were on course to cross the road just in front of my vehicle and I slowed down hoping for a er, bird's-eye view of the climax. Sorry. Couldn't help it. Suddenly the magpie changed course and ran directly into my window, exploding in a shower of feathers. His pursuer passed within a few feet of me, close enough for me to see him laugh and wink.
On several occasions, hawks have actually put food on my table. A Cooper's hawk killed a chukar in the air 40 yards away and left it on the ground for me. Some people might argue that the chukar was not an offering of love; that the arrival of my setter kept the hawk from adjusting his grip to carry the bird away. Those people would be wrong.
On another occasion I was able to net a large trout that had been badly injured by an osprey and was swimming in circles near the surface. I guarantee that trout was a gift from the osprey.
But not everything has been peaches and cream. The hawks were jealous when I began raising pigeons for dog training. After killing a couple dozen over several years, a Cooper's hawk became greedy, went into the coop, killed four birds and trapped himself inside in the process. I did not take revenge, though I will admit to providing some avoidance training ... for the hawk's own good.
This hunting season was a microcosm of my up-and-down relationship with hawks. After hunting unsuccessfully for most of the day in deep snow, I was ready to pack it in when a covey of chukars landed on a ridgeline nearby. Knowing they would run uphill after landing I decided not to try for them ... until I saw a red-tailed hawk make multiple passes over their location. With him in the area I knew the chukars would still be there when I arrived. Sure enough, they were. I got a couple and waved thanks to the hawk.
The next day, everything changed. With three coveys above me talking like mad, I headed up through 12 inches of snow. In the hour and a half it took me to get to the chukars' location, four different hawks spooked birds. Every 15 minutes or so I would see another chukar rocketing down the hill, screaming in panic, with a merlin, Coopers, goshawk or prairie falcon in close pursuit. By the time I reached the top, none of the chukars remained.
Yet another reason why my relationship with hawks is tortured. Hawks giveth and hawks taketh away.
Pat Wray writes about the outdoors and can be reached at email@example.com.
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