Every bird in flight is beautiful in its own way. But to me, there’s nothing as electrifying as the sight of a hawk spreading its powerful wings, soaring through the air, and once in a lucky while, passing close enough to show the edges of its feathers ripple in the wind.
The other day I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk perched on an irrigation rig in a field roughly a quarter-mile away. Suddenly it saw something move on the ground near me and was instantly in the air headed straight in our direction.
The hawk is made for hunting with eyes that work like binoculars, and so it can see small animals from 100 feet in the air. Its stare has the intensity of a spotlight, and its talons the strength of 200 pounds per inch.
All this was on display as this hawk came toward me and passed by 20 feet away. Then, in a move I didn’t expect, the magnificent raptor landed on a post not 10 feet from where I was standing.. It stretched its body, swiveled its head to survey its new surroundings and clenched its talons in the air.
Here’s a video of my hawk on its post:
The hawk was a juvenile, probably less than a year old, and apparently not experienced enough yet to fear humans.
All summer long, I’ve encountered juvenile birds unsure of how to behave, hesitant as they explored the world for the first time. There was a juvenile Eastern Bluebird who, like this hawk, hung around like we were best friends. Sometimes the young birds will still be in training with their parents. But eventually they have to head out on their own, and many have long migration trips ahead.
The hawk took off and circled around the nearby field, landing a few times without catching anything. Then he returned to a post again just a few feet away. He looked at me as if he’d never seen a person: interested and curious, with an intensity that lets you know what it’s like to be hunted by a Red-tailed Hawk.
Finally, he few off and circled the field until he disappeared into the woods. Here’s a gallery from this lucky encounter: