Dear reader, I hope you’ll bear with so few photos in this blog entry. Permissions are hard to come by. One photographer declined my request; another couldn’t be located. However I’ll provide links to their wonderful photos. (Once you click on, you may have to scroll down past text). I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.
With the young Red Tailed Hawks airborne at last, the hawk-watchers of New York’s Washington Square Park (including those of us online) thought the excitement was over. Parents Bobby and Rosie got to work teaching their three fledglings hunting and flying skills — they boot the “kids” out by late August — but one of the young’uns was out for adventure a whole lot sooner than that.
In mid-July, a new juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk showed up in the park. The bird wore a band reading “NJ30” in yellow letters on a blue background. Some hawk-watchers made inquiries and discovered that the young hawk had been banded about thirteeen miles (20 km) away in New Jersey as part of a project to track bird strikes on airplanes. It was then taken sixty miles (100 km) south and released — only to head north, straight for Washington Square Park. It made sense to conclude that the young hawk was one of Bobby and Rosie’s brood, an adventurous juvenile who’d taken a day trip, had a misadventure, and remembered where home and safety was. Had she not been one of the juvies, she would have continued south as migrating season approaches. Had she been an intruder, Bobby and Rosie would have kicked her out of the park.
We surmised that the fledgling was Kiku, the brave and aggressive oldest sibling — the big eater who once snatched a (small) rodent from her mother and swallowed it whole; first to fledge live online with a hair-raising street-stroll downtown and a visit to a police car; first to cross the Hudson twice and live to tell the tale. Now, for her short time left as a young hawk on her parents’ turf, the banded kid had come home to resume her snatch-and-grab apprenticeship, yanking a dead pigeon from Bobby, knocking him off a branch and eating it herself — practice for life as a bird of prey, all of it “supervised” by dutiful parents.
Then a week ago, the unexpected happened. The alleged Kiku challenged mama Rosie with a threatening shriek, and Rosie went on the attack to defend her turf. (The event was documented by blogger roger_paw in a series of startling photos). The two went talon-to-talon, until Rosie finally bested the kid who lost her balance, took a tumble and ended up humbled and roosting outside the park. It was a wild and stunning defence of turf, one which occasioned a few anxious comments online. Was “the kid” really one of “ours” if she picked a fight with mom? Or was this to be expected? It’s late August anyway, time for the juvies to hit the road, right?
Right. The hawks always end up doing something wondrous, strange or gruesome that makes you shake your head in puzzlement. Kiku’s homing instinct is only one jaw-dropping example. This battle royal was another.
Only we’re tempted to imagine that they’re “like us,” when they’re not at all! Look at the Red-Tail’s instinct for parenting, this powerful empathic bond we share with them. Yet draw closer, and you feel what’s wild and unknowable about these creatures who hunt and kill and rip rats apart, then shove the guts into hungry young mouths. It’s easy to ask all the wrong questions, hoping not to taint the benign with the savage, hoping to understand wild creatures, the mystery that’s coded in their genes.
It’s easy to forget that hawks (like all wild critters) function in a realm of awareness unknown to us. When lost, they find their way home; with superb eyesight, they hunt for food in order to feed their young. All descriptive language applied to them (primitive behaviour, killing machines, survival of the fittest, loving parenthood, tender solicitude) is ours, not theirs. They are utterly Other, one of nature’s generous gifts, one that inspires contemplation, humility and no small dose of wonder. Each spring and summer, we online chatters are privileged observers of their remarkable world, one that is woven of relationships — theirs to each other and ours to them, haunted by what poet bpNichol described as “between each other and some other other.”
The hawks teach us to live life in awe, to honour and respect what we will never understand, to experience gratitude for enduring mystery. Bravo to gutsy Kiku, Rosie, Bobby and the other hawks for being just what they are.
Thanks to all this season’s bloggers and chatters — and to NYU — for this opportunity to experience so many transcendent moments.