Monday, July 28, 2014

The Hawks

It’s been some time since that early morning when we were working in the far garden and first noticed the odd, persistent noise coming from up in the pines.

We set aside what we were doing and went to investigate, having learned some years ago that unusual noises are unusual for a reason, and generally bear investigation. At the edge of the great corridor in the pines, in the first rank of towering trees bordering the gravel driveway, high above the ground was a rough nest of twigs, branches and pine needles.
Our old, familiar breeding pair of hawks—I still don’t know the exact type of hawk—who we have seen in the vicinity of the pines off and on over recent years, was in residence. With them were at least two young.

A brief digression: A baby hawk is called an ‘Eyas.’ The plural form is ‘Eyasses.’ The female mother is simply known as a ‘hen,’ while the father is called a ‘Tierce*.’

With binoculars, we could intermittently see two small, fuzzy heads with bright, fierce eyes and angry little beaks peering through the branches. If I made a small clicking sound, they would look about alertly for the source. From day to day we could monitor their progress and growth amid all the squeaking and crying and calling; we moved a pair of chaise longues nearby to better observe the aerie at length in comfort. It was hypnotic to observe them for extended periods, peering almost vertically into the canopy where they flitted from branch to branch and tree to tree.

The Eyasses became more bird-like with each passing day, at first exploring tentatively. They would fall off branches awkwardly, tumbling briefly before unfurling their novel wings and converting from ballistic objects to aerodynamic bodies. Clearly, at the outset, flying does not come naturally or easily to them; it’s not their first choice or natural mode. Sitting still in the warm sun and having hot meals brought to them is their obvious preference. But all good things must come to an end.

Within about ten days, maybe two weeks, the Eyasses were flying freely and skillfully among the pines. At one point there erupted a torrent of calls in multiple voices from the aerie.

We investigated, assuming from the character of the noise that a feeding was happening. In fact, there was, though the actual meal was obscured from our view. One hawk, age and gender uncertain, perched on the edge of the nest, tearing bits of flesh and gulping them down voraciously. A second hawk approached, eager to join in the feast. But the first would have none of that. One angry cry, one swift shove with an open foot, and the interloper simply slides backwards off the branch, falling a good five feet before remembering those things attached at its shoulders and taking flight with a cry of indignation.

Now we hear the plaintive squeaks ranging farther and farther afield from the aerie. The binding ties are loosening, and the eyasses must be near fully fledged. What becomes of juvenile hawks? Do they stay in the neighborhood? Must they compete with their parents over a limited territory, with the result that the young must move along to more sparsely inhabited realms?

Yesterday, I think I only heard the distinctive cry once; Mary says she heard them a few times during the day. They seem to be spreading out, moving farther from the nest. I keep listening, waiting, thinking I’ll be lucky enough to catch another glimpse of them perched in the branches of the pines. We’ll see what happens; this gets filed along with the two other significant hawk-related sitings—the migratory kettle in, what, 2010? And last January’s close encounter in the Turkey yard. What beautiful birds they are.

* According to Helen MacDonald in "H is for Hawk," this comes from the root of 'third,' as the male hawk is a third smaller than the female hawk.

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