Monday, January 26, 2009

A Hawk's Life

Over the weekend we were struck by yet another winter storm, this one with wet, heavy snow in varying intensities throughout the day. Yet even a heavy snow does not dampen bird activity, and in the midafternoon we discovered that our yard was under strict surveillance: Spook had returned.

It is fascinating to really watch a sharp shinned hawk, or any bird of prey. For long periods of time he perched attentively where he had good visibility -- at the top of a power pole, on the peak of a nearby garage, or in a tree along the property line. Once, for a moment, he alighted on our fence, but only for as long as it took to regain his balance before finding a more comfortable perch. The smaller birds: the finches, sparrows, and siskins, were conspicuous by their absence, but eventually the American goldfinches began to taunt our accipiter friend. One finch, or several, would fly erratically near the hawk, just out of reach of a quick strike but clearly meant to be seen. Spook might shift his weight, eyeing this seemingly easy prey, but he did not easily take the bait. Only when the finches would venture just a tad too close would he launch and dive after them, testing both his and their agility to the limit.

After less than a minute of frenetic activity, Spook would find another perch and rest there, his head continually scanning the landscape in a methodical pattern, searching for a morsel. After a time, the finch taunting would begin again only to culminate in another intense chase of aerobatics.

In the hour or more that he lurked around our yard, Spook's appetite must only have grown because his attacks were unsuccessful. Yet this juvenile hawk (clearly marked by the white feathers still showing through his darker plumage) is succeeding at survival, because even in the coldest, most unforgiving winter weather, he continues to hunt, to live, and ultimately, to soar. In the midst of the darkest winter days, if we can remember his perseverance, we too shall grow stronger and wiser as we survive until spring.

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