A Morning for Hawks

An Eastern Phoebe, Pine Warbler and Northern Cardinal sang as I walked down the road this morning, under a soaring pale blue sky with high white cirrus clouds and criss-crossed with spreading jet trails. The air was chilly, brisk, but not cold, the sun high and bright. In the east, the last big white clouds from yesterday’s long, dark rain were drifting away, crowded together like a herd. It was a morning that looked and felt and sounded like spring.

Eastern Bluebirds – sunbirds, with their colors reflecting the sky and the light – sang their blurry chorry-chorry from the tops of tall trees. Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens and House Finches sang. Woodpeckers rattled and drummed, Brown-headed Nuthatches chattered excited squeaky-dees; Chipping Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers sprayed up into flight from the roadsides.

But above all the activity of small songbirds and woodpeckers, the morning belonged to hawks – at least four Red-shouldered Hawks and three Red-tailed Hawks, at different times and places – soared and circled and cried, so glorious to watch that it was hard to look away from the sky.

The first was a Red-shouldered Hawk that flew directly overhead, flapping its wings several times, the undersides of the wings flashing pale in the sunlight, its ruddy breast glowing. I watched it flying alone – as far as I could see – for several minutes before it was joined by a second Red-shouldered Hawk and soon after that by a third.

The three soared and circled fairly low, then slowly began to make their way higher. The black-and-white striped wings now more visible, with pale crescents near the wing-tips; the banded tails and ruddy breasts all showing in unusual detail in the clear light. They circled and cried kee-yer and climbed higher. Toward the north, from somewhere in some tall pines around the edges of the woods, I heard a fourth Red-shouldered Hawk making choppy, agitated cherra-cherra-cherrra calls. A few minutes later, after the three soaring together had drifted out of sight, the fourth one flew up roughly out of the pines, still calling in what sounded like agitation. It seems likely the four hawks may have been two pairs contesting the boundaries of their territories. It’s a happy thought that we might have two nesting pairs somewhere nearby.

The first Red-tailed Hawk appeared as a small spot quite high, in another, less wooded area of the neighborhood, big, broad wings placidly stretched out wide. Less animated than the vibrant Red-shouldered Hawks, but more regal, maybe, it glided steadily up in wide circles, its dull red-orange tail tilting as it turned and caught the light of the sun. Then it drifted back down lower and passed right over me, showing the pale under side and the dark-brown hooded head.

Another Red-tailed Hawk – or maybe the same one – sat on top of a utility pole near the highway, just outside our subdivision.

Then later, as I was headed back home, two Red-tailed Hawks were circling together fairly low, and a third soared directly above but much higher, barely visible. I watched this one until it disappeared from view, just melting into the blue. The other two below gradually rose higher in big wide circles, not flapping at all, just riding on broad outspread wings, until they appeared only as small, small winged shapes that drifted off very high, toward the west.

Leave a Reply