Pairing up

It's your turn to grab dinner.Red-tailed hawks are warming to togetherness, indicating, more accurately than that four-legged critter from Punxsutawney, that the weather also is soon to warm. Of course, most Red-tailed hawks do not have television cameras staring at them to record whether they see their shadow while swooping down on an unsuspecting breakfast.

Red-tails are one of the most
graceful birds I’ve had the pleasure of watching. They possibly are more
graceful than seagulls, though the latter pull off longer performances.

Hawks always have some place to go – toward the next game stand or away from the guy with the camera. Seagulls pretty much fly because they groove on flying.

Eagles are, in nearly all cases, regal. It is their main purpose for existing. Watch one sit on the top of a dead tree’s uppermost branch, its white head and golden beak staring out at the world as though it knows it is the most royal creature of the air. Written down in Bald Eagle history books are tales of ancestors who have graced flagstaffs of warriors going back probably to the beginning of human history.

Red-tails, on the other hand, are members of a raptor family often depicted in movies as able to see into the past or future, probably because when they get up high they can see voles and mice most humans could not see beneath our feet. In their role as spiritual seers, they bring messages from our ancestors, and sometimes bring scenes of the future.

I must admit to seeing only the spotted waistcoat, the bar at the end of the tail feathers, and the red glowing fantail on a sunny afternoon as the bird soars above me; some people who study such things say each bird actually has a unique plumage pattern. I must pay closer attention to my pictures.

I can almost hear one of them mocking me: I’ll bet you thought we all looked alike. They mate for life, so whatever differences there are must be obvious to another Red-tailed hawk – up to 15 years in the wild.

Red-tailed hawks are essentially non-migratory throughout the Americas south of the latitude of the U.S. and Canada border, though birds living in Alaska and Canadian winters do head south to the United States for winter vacation. If it seems there are a few more Red-tails during our winter, that would be because there probably are.

Recently, I’ve been seeing them in pairs, which makes sense for this time of year. It’s said in the north country there is a spike in human childbirth in about August or September. Do the math.

I know where there are several pairs. Now I’d love to find a nest. There will be hatchlings in a few weeks. Maybe I’ll get lucky.

Red-tails like tall trees for nesting. I guess it is helpful when nearly every critter you would want to keep away from your nest lives below it. Owls and crows have a taste for hawk eggs, and have been known to take over hawk nests, but that does not always work out well for the usurpers.

The best part of watching wildlife is learning how like us they are. Monogamy, on its surface, seems a silly idea – we have a difficult time keeping most friends for more than a few years, yet we take a mate until death do us part. There is another thing I have learned: We all cast shadows on sunny mornings, even high-flying hawks. If one casts a long shadow, the world will beat a path to one’s door. Of course, advertising helps, and Punxsutawney Phil certainly has an effective PR department.

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