Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Hawks Are Alive!

Photo: © 2004-2005 Patricia Velte

During our drive back and forth between Austin and Baton Rouge for Christmas, Annie and I saw an unprecedented number of hawks along the highway, perched high on billboards, trees, and telephone poles, keenly alert for prey. We counted something like 14 on the way to Baton Rouge before the light was gone, which we thought was pretty amazing. Annie has a real eye for them, spotting them amid dense stands of wood as well as on far off fence posts, even while she was driving. (I prefer to believe she simply has a sixth sense about them, rather than that she wasn't watching the road. We each have our illusions that get us sanely through the day.)

On the way back, we counted an astounding (to us, anyway) 42 separate hawks! Apparently we were in the middle of their annual winter migration, a little later than usual. I wrote to the Texas Ornithological Society in Houston to see what species of hawk they might be (from photos, I thought maybe they were Cooper's Hawks), but President David Sarkozi said from my description they definitely sounded like Red-Tailed Hawks:

Most of your hawks were likely Red-tailed Hawks. The eastern form
expected on that drive is very light colored. Cooper's are forest
birds and don't spend a lot of time in the open, while Red-tailed
hunt from perches. There is an old adage in Texas birding, all
roadside hawks are red-tailed hawks until proven otherwise.

They're certainly beautiful, majestic, impressive birds. The white plumage on their chests really catches your eye when they're perched, and I can see how if you were on the ground looking up, that would blend right into the cloud cover. Were they there every year, but I never noticed them? Had we not moved out into the country, would we still have been in the right frame of mind to pay attention? I wonder how many other marvelous creatures are in our field of view every day, unnoticed and unremarked, there for us to gaze at, rapt, had we only the courage to look.


Anonymous said...

Call me an orinthological nerd, but I love looking for birds. We see these red-tailed hawks all the time. When you see one in flight, it's a ballet of grace and strength. Out at our cabin in Cat Spring, we see and hear woodpeckers and doves all the time. We also see painted buntings, and they are the most gorgeous birds I've ever seen at our feeder. The little birds are feisty and the song birds sing all day long. Once you notice the birds, it's amazing how beautiful they are. I've actually considered keeping a birders log because Houston is located in the flyway. Great photo. -- Denise

snake lady said...

Jeff and Annie are just north of the Balcones Canyonlands NWR. The hawk count there in years past has gotten up into 4 digit numbers. Doe Skin ranch area has had a "kettle" of 400 hawks during migration. I could write forever of the joy I have received birding. Last week was the Audobon Christmas Bird count for this area. I spent 8 hours with my dear 99 year old friend, Ursula, who actually organized the first bird count in Burnet county. She is as enthusiastic about life as a 12 year old - because she "birds". Ursula says birds taught her what is important in living. To be a sweet 99 year old lady from Germany who survived the Holocaust, that says a lot for birding! (But it's hard to look for snakes and birds at the same time)

Anonymous said...

Jeff, have I ever told you the story of my encounter with a red-tailed hawk in our attic? The end of the story is that I am peering at a shadow into the back of the dark attic, wondering what the heck is that thing, just as it spreads its wings and flies right at me. No 6 year old girl could possibly scream any louder than I did!! In any event, I found out that keeping doves as a pet is called "bait" to the "hawk lady" at LSU (yes, there are people who are experts in hawks, and no, they do not remove them from your attic.) I also found out that the "hawk lady" does not approve of shooting a hawk in said attic nor as it attacks your pet "bait". There seems to be a higher value of hawk life over dove life. The entire story must be shared over cold beer and bird-drop soup.
p.s.- Hawk Lady also didn't respond well when I told her I had eaten a lot of spotted owl, did hawk taste the same?