I have always admired hawks, watching for them and sometimes counting them on long trips as I drive. But, to me, they seemed like such hungry birds, living a dull and lonely life. At least thatís what I thought until I met Rufous and Henrietta Hawk.
Jay and I were alerted by Susi, perched up in the patio window, violently swishing her Maine coon tail like a flag. Two squirrels were chasing each other round and round one of our cypress trees. Suddenly, we noticed a large bird jumping from limb to limb in the tree. The squirrels jumped back, and then another bird swooped down, charging them. Eventually, the squirrels fled. We were left wondering who the aggressor was: bird or squirrel. We continued to watch the birds, and identified them as hawks.
Early this morning, I took Jay to the airport, where he headed off to White Sands Missile Range to run the Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon. I came back home to work on mini-diplomas. From the little window in our loft, I entertained myself by watching the activities of Rufous and Henrietta Hawk. Using a field guide, I identified them as Cooperís hawks (commonly known as chicken hawks).
Cooperís hawks are bird hawks (Accipiter cooperii); their primary diet consists of small birds and mammals. (Remember Henery the baby cartoon hawk who didnít know what a chicken looks like?) They are medium-sized hawks, about the size of a grown crow. Henrietta is quite a bit larger than her mate. She is brown, with a tawny striped ruff, chest, and leggings. Henrietta raises her hackles and spreads her wings a lot. Rufous is sleek and handsome, with a dark grey-blue back and orange and white striped chest.
All day, Rufous and Henrietta gathered sticks and small limbs and flew up into a live oak tree, where they are building their nest. The nest quickly became quite large, and can be seen from the canal bridge on Red River Trail.
Nest-building activity continued on Sunday morning. I learned from my neighbors, the Maxwells, that they too have seen a hawk on their fence, for some time. They even saw a small rabbit that they speculate escaped from the hawk. The Maxwells observe that the hawk is very familiar with people, and possibly an escaped pet. Could this be Rufous? Or Henrietta?
On Sunday afternoon, I watched as Henrietta tried to pull what appeared to be a small limb off the cypress tree. She tugged and tugged. And then Ė feathers began to fly. I took out my binoculars for a closer look, and watched as Henrietta plucked the feathers from a mourning dove and had her lunch right there in the tree. Rufous calmly stood watch, ready to warn her of any transgressors that might take her meal away.
The hawk couple in a cypress tree.
Rufous has decided that it is time to get serious about becoming a father. In a great flurry of wings and stripes, the pair of hawks became love birds. There was such a commotion that walkers on the other side of the canal watched open-mouthed and pointed to the great birds!
Unfortunately, their activities attracted the attention of more than human passers-by! A grackle lit in the tippy-top of a nearby cypress tree. Then another grackle lit in the top of a tree on the other side. Henrietta and Rufous began hopping from limb to limb higher, toward the grackles. Finally, the grackles flew. Henrietta, wanting to have the last word, rushed out toward the grackles; but they circled back and attacked her! Wham! Bam! A major confrontation took place in mid-air. It was over in a minute; then the hawk couple disappeared.
All day, Jay and I worried about what became of Henrietta. Was she mortally wounded? Had the pair of hawks decided to find a safer haven for their nest?
Continue to Chapter 2: Nest-Building and Hunting
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