Hawk on the Windshield

magpieI just had a very close encounter with a big brown hawk. A couple of feet away would qualify, yes?

This happened less than a mile from home. I was at the top end of the road where the pavement ends. About two singlewides from my turn, I drove all at once into a screaming flock of magpies! [left] Dozens of them, wheeling and caterwauling all around me. This isn’t normal, so I slowed to a crawl to see what was going on. The next thing I knew, a large hawk all but dropped out of the sky, flapping frantically to break its fall, right in front of my face. Its outstretched wings were easily the width of my windshield. If I hadn’t jammed on the brakes immediately, I would have smashed it head-on. As it was, the bird and I caught ourselves at the last split second, so that we just barely touched before it flew off, but touch we did. Feathers pushed against the glass!

I was momentarily stunned and pulled off on the side of the road to check out the rest of the action. The hawk, which I now perceived to be exhausted, managed to make it to the top of a telephone pole about 50 yards away, while the magpies settled into the branches of an adjacent tree. I couldn’t believe how many of them there were. They’d obviously been mobbing the poor hawk, something I’ve witnessed many times, but never anything like this where the raptor was so terribly outnumbered.

A big hawk is at a disadvantage against smaller birds in the air, although these were magpies and pretty big themselves. It does happen that raptors end up getting killed this way, but that’s unusual. For the most part, mobbing birds will just harass the victim. This time I drove away worried for the hawk.

Closest I’ve ever been to a live one, bar none.

* * *

UPDATE: Oops, I’m wrong. Make that a live conscious one. In fact, the closest I’ve ever been to a live hawk was when I picked up a dazed merlin that hit our kitchen window in Maryland once. I carried it over to a stump and laid it down to see if it was dead or alive, keeping an eye out for the cats in the meantime. A couple of minutes later, it staggered to its feet and flew away.

  • chipper Thompson February 23, 2011, 9:48 PM

    This whole thing is unspeakably awesome. Coolest thing I’ve heard in a long time. Congrats.

    • JHF February 23, 2011, 10:21 PM

      Gennelmens! How good to hear from you both. Hey, Chip. Yes, one of those times. If “hawk medicine” applies, I got it right in the face. 🙂

  • Roger Landes February 23, 2011, 10:07 PM

    Aren’t raptors amazing? I found an injured Great Horned Owl on my farm in Mizzourah about 20 years ago. Took him to the raptor center at Swope Park Zoo to see if they could save him but they couldn’t. Turns out he had been caged (some jackass had driven up my 1/2 mile driveway and dumped him why we were away from home) and was not only severely dehydrated, he was missing tail feathers and couldn’t fly. Amazing thing, though: after he died they disassembled him and used his remaining good feathers to repair other injured owls.

    • JHF February 23, 2011, 10:27 PM

      Good God! I’ll bet the bastard who dumped him pulled the tail feathers. Or maybe they just fell out from being caged and uncared for. What kind of person would enjoy having a great horned owl in a cage, forgodssake?

      Now I’m remembering Tif’s eagle photo. Hoo boy!

  • Ken Webb February 24, 2011, 5:01 PM

    This piece is emblematic, Dr. Farr. These little twittering inconsequential birds banding together and by their sheer weight of numbers overcoming the doomed solitary noble bird – you can read a lot of human behavior into that phenomenon. De Tocqueville thought that that was the danger inherent in American-style democracy as he witnessed it soon after its creation. Democracy would not foster, he worried, the great spirit and the noble sacrifice which, at their best, aristocratic societies were capable of. He admired much of what he saw in the American spirit, but he worried about this waning of the old high-hearted virtues. I reckon he never sat in a deck chair from Walmart’s, but if he did, he probably worried about that pretty much the way you worry about it. I’m of two minds. I love the nobility of the lost cause and the generous gesture (the hawk in your parable), but something tells me I’m a magpie at heart.

  • JHF February 25, 2011, 1:11 AM

    Well, I’d rather be a hawk, but I probably haven’t earned the right! Very nice elaboration of the parable. I wasn’t going to go that far this time, but I see you’re filling in quite admirably. 🙂

    I think the thing about the magpies is that there wouldn’t have been nearly so many, nor in such a vengeful state, without significant provocation. And there, ladies and gentlemen, is metaphor and analogy for the times!

  • lrm November 23, 2011, 1:26 PM

    Well, I had a redtailed hawk on my metal balcony in sterile suburbia san diego, the day before i got a call that my mother had died. It literally RAN into the storage unit door, making a huge thud; my 7 yr old said ‘that’s a hawk mom’…then it literally SAT on the railing, looking in at me for what seemed like eternity, probably only 10 seconds, before flying away.
    Hawks do not accidentally ram into a door on a patio in suburbia. Wild, yes. So, wildlife and nature are everyone, in cities, town, dream/other worldly places like Taos…and animal medicine is everywhere. Thanks for your blog-moving to Taos pieces are eXACtly what I thought it would be, and the reason I keep staying away. I heard NM referred to as ‘Land of Entrapment’ instead of Land of Enchantment, and that affirmed the sense I have always had when visiting. But still…if you’v gotta be there, raise your hands in surrrender, and be there.

    • JHF November 23, 2011, 8:12 PM

      One thing to keep in mind is that my own story is also the story of an “eternal boy” who wasn’t ready to make a living on his own, much less take care of someone else, and basically fucked up in that way. All I had going for me was the accelerating dot-com boom. I knew people getting $1,500 per 1,000 word columns that were pure crap. I knew I could do better and was on that elevator with a real prospect of making a middle class living out here, until all the Web columnists got fired. (Those salaries have never returned, either.) Moving to New Mexico would have been ENTIRELY different if I’d been mature enough to support us both.

      This is a fantastic place to live if you have a way to support yourself and live decently. It’s an awful place to be if you’re poor, struggling, or just stupid.

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