Wednesday, March 15, 2017 7:31 AM
I love to watch the red-tailed hawks fly across the creek valley. Their light brown bellies glint beautifully in the sun as they fly. Their dark brown wings stretch four feet across, and as they turn and climb higher into the sky, I can see their fan-shaped namesake, red tails. Their scratchy call echoes among the hills and up and down the creek valley.
Occasionally, one will sit high on a branch up the hill behind the cabin, seemingly hunched over, small round head atop a large body, as it eyes the ducks, chickens and homing pigeons foraging across the yard. Over the years, we have walked across our fields and occasionally found what is left of one of our flock after a hawk attack.
The chickens are too big for the hawk to carry away, but the pecked-out belly of our beloved bird is a sure sign that she was dined on by a bird of prey. Yes, I know that the hawk needs to eat too, but it saddens me to lose one of my hens or pigeons.
After an attack, I keep them penned up and hope that the hawk will hunt elsewhere. My birds look at me, with heads cocked to one side, wondering why they are being punished.
It has seemed, though, that the hawks have had plenty of other creatures to eat of late and have not been bothering my flock, until just the other day.
I was standing on the cabin porch, watching the pigeons circle over the valley, when I was surprised to see them take a sharp downward turn. When their squadron formation swooped back up, higher into the sky, I saw why they had made the sudden dive. A red-tailed hawk was literally right on their tails, a slight pigeon’s breath behind.
I stepped off the porch and into the field. My heart stood still as I watched from below and silently urged the squadron to return to their coop. They dove and darted, and after several turns, the hawk soared off over the edge of the creek valley and out of sight, and my pigeons were able to return safely home.
That evening as I closed up the coop, I could see each of my 20 birds, each one contentedly nestled beside its lifelong partner, each on its respective perch. All was well, or so I thought.
The next morning, Greg did the animal chores as I puttered about inside the cabin. Chores finished, he returned to the cabin, looking very solemn as he opened the door. “Come outside,” was all he said.
I followed him over to the pigeon gazebo. There on the floor inside the coop was a dead pigeon, its belly pecked quite clean. Outside, amid a pile of pure white feathers, were the remains of another of my birds.
I took a cautious look inside the coop. The birds were obviously traumatized, not wanting to venture down from their perches. Eighteen pairs of uncertain eyes met mine. I was unsure what to do. Let them fly and risk becoming hawk dinner or keep them sadly cooped up, but safe.
Greg and I talked it over, and I decided to follow the latter course. Perhaps the hawk would go in search of other hunting grounds, realizing that the delectable flying white morsels were no longer available. I could only hope, for the birds of prey are legally protected and cannot be hunted, unlike the fox. I cannot load up my .22 rifle and keep it ready by the front porch.
So we shall see what time will tell, and in time I will let my birds fly again, but for now they safely flutter about inside their gazebo, looking out at the blue sky beyond. And as for me? Well, I continue to scan the valley ridgetop looking for signs of the hungry red tails, my ears tuned to the sound of their scratchy call.
Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.