The Christmas Hawk

red-shouldered hawkA hawk has been hanging around my back yard since Christmas Eve.

I first noticed it was because of the other birds mobbing it.  It was hunkered down on a limb in my neighbor’s yard, and a blue jay, a mockingbird and a trio of crows were in nearby trees, screaming and occasionally swooping down at it.  The hawk did not retaliate, but instead scrunched down, as if trying to disappear.  Eventually one crow got too close, and the hawk launched itself heavily into the air – not to attack, but to flee.  It didn’t fly further than a few trees away and then crouched close to the trunk.  The other birds continued to yell and swoop as I got out the binoculars and tried to ID the hawk.

I knew it wasn’t a sharp-shinned hawk.  They visit the area around my bird feeders frequently enough that I can spot them without binoculars.  This new hawk was much larger and heavier.  A little snow was falling and the light wasn’t great, but I decided it was probably a juvenile red-tailed hawk – a pretty common bird for my area, but a first-time visitor to my back yard.

John and I had some last-minute pre-Christmas errands to run so I had to leave without a better look.  When I got back it was nearly dusk, but I could still see the hulking shape of the hawk, this time in our own yard, and with its back to me.  I was able to get a better look at its tail and realized that I’d misidentified the bird – that it was more likely a red-shouldered hawk rather than a red-tailed.  The species are not dissimilar and the juvvies are pretty easy to mix up, particularly for someone without a lot of hawk experience.  I’m not swearing by that ID – I could very well be wrong again – but the hawk was closer to the house early this afternoon, and both John and I got a better look at it.  In fact, John had a fabulous sighting:  the hawk landed on our deck rail and stayed there for some minutes.  Talk about jealous!  I was in the shower and missed the whole thing.  How I wished John had been able to snap a photo of the bird, but since he didn’t, this one I found on the internet will have to do.

We’ve seen him/her several more times today, mostly at the rear of the yard or in our neighbors’ trees or on the fence line.  My bird feeders have been empty since autumn – I’ve been too busy to buy more seed – but I’d fully intended to fill them up on Christmas.  However, having a resident hawk makes me reluctant to do so.  I don’t want to set up my little feathered friends as a birdie buffet, no matter how entranced I am by our new visitor.  (If I was sure the hawk would only make off with the English sparrows and the European starlings – both invasive, non-native species – I wouldn’t have the first scruple.)  John wants to feed the hawk, but unless we catch a mouse or something, I don’t see that happening.  I don’t think you can buy hawk feed at the local bird supply store.

Having wild creatures in my yard makes me happy, but having a Really Wild Thing visit, particularly during the holidays, feels like a special gift.  I hope the Christmas Hawk hangs around for a while – at least into the New Year.

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