April 17, 2011
“I soar, I am a hawk.”
The Life of King Henry the Fifth
For some people the harbingers of spring are daffodils and forsythia. With their vibrant yellow petals, they can make even the most dour curmudgeon cheerful.
For me, spring hasn’t sprung until the chives at the corner of the garage have poked through the ground and red-tail hawks are flying overhead. Both arrived last Sunday, a freakish 84-degree day that coaxed everyone outdoors. A red-tailed was gliding low in the sky over our driveway where Ed, Marilyn and I were chatting. Maybe we looked like dinner. Later on, three more were scoping out the bounty in the woods that stretch behind our yards.
Perhaps I learned to recognize red-tailed hawks because they are common, but as far back as I can remember the sight of one majestically riding a thermal has thrilled me. With their broad wings and tail spread wide, their flight appears effortless. As author Arthur Cleveland Bent wrote in Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds: “Once, as I stood on the brink of a precipice looking down over a broad valley, I saw below me a red-tailed hawk floating over the valley...poised as motionless as if suspended on a wire.”
About 8 years ago, at about this time of year, Bill and I saw a kettle of hawks circling the corner of our street. I had time to count them: Fifteen. I had never seen that many together before. A white-breasted juvenile once took off from the lowest limb on our front yard oak tree and flew just 6 feet over the top of my head. I was slack-jawed.
One day last summer, a red-tailed’s raspy "kree-eee-ar" seemed too close to the ground and too near. After scrutinizing our back yard, I spotted it, seated regally on top of a totem pole of a tree in our next-door neighbor’s back yard. Although known to be a shy bird, not letting a human “come within 100 yards,” this hawk was not distressed by me clumping in the ivy, or 7-year-old Ashanti’s “whatchadoin’?” burble. It remained on its lofty perch just 25 feet above us, surveying its surroundings, and occasionally inspecting us girls staring up. I looked a red-tailed hawk in the eye!
Until last spring, I hadn’t thought much about a hawk’s life. I had assumed that they were more or less solitary. The fact that they migrate hadn’t registered. I figured that I didn’t see them in the winter because I’m not much of an outdoor gal. I scurry from house to garage, from car to store; I’m not scanning the skies for raptor activity.
Researchers have theories but they don’t know for certain why hawks during the spring don’t travel in the large groups they do in the fall. Annette, who volunteers at the Medina Raptor Center, joined in the Detroit River Hawk Watch last September and reported thousands of hawks, eagles and falcons migrating south for the winter through the flyway in Michigan at the mouth of the Detroit River. “On a good day, the sky is just filled in every direction that you look....It is an absolutely awesome sight....And the only time you can see this natural phenomena is in September and October. There are only about 15 places in the entire USA that you can watch this spectacular display....”
I don’t mind if East Cleveland isn’t on the list. It’s OK if spring migration isn’t much of anything. In mid-April, one red-tailed hawk soaring on an air current above me is a magnificent sight. It gives me hope, and it promises warmer days coming soon.
|Fun Facts: Red-tailed Hawks
• About 18 to 24 inches tall
• Wingspan of around 4 feet
• Weighs in at about 2.5 pounds; the largest hawk.
• Peak Breeding Activity: spring
• Incubation: 28-35 days
• Clutch Size: 2-3 eggs
• Young Fledge: 42-46 days after hatching
• Typical Foods: small rodents, reptiles, and birds
• Hawks migrate during daylight hours, traveling at speeds up to 45 mph.
• The longevity records for a Red-tailed Hawk in the wild is over 28 years
• A group of hawks has many collective nouns, including a "boil", "knot", "spiraling", "stream", "tower" or “kettle” and may contain up to 1,000 birds.
• Males and females perform a courtship ritual in which they dive and roll in the sky. They will even lock talons and fall together a distance before splitting apart.
• The raspy cry of the Red-tailed Hawk is typically used in movies to represent any eagle or hawk anywhere in the world.
• They can spot a mouse from a height of 100 feet.