Mighty Hunter

There’s a big red tailed hawk sitting in the oak tree on the edge of the bay.  I’m across the road, but from here I can see her cock her head, look from one side to the other. She’s rosy in the morning light, and fluffed up in the cold, looking like a small chicken, kind of sweet, or at least innocuous. But she’s there watching my neighbor’s big bird feeder that hangs about 15 feet away. This beautiful bird, soft feathers, warm breast, and bright eyes, is a ruthless killer.

If you haven’t read Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk, you should. Especially if you’re a fan of raptors, or someone who’s grieved a parent. But it will forever dash your romanticism about the noble hawk.

The book is Helen’s personal saga of raising and training Mabel, a goshawk. The process of training this fierce creature to come to her command after hunting is not for the squeamish. Mabel eats frozen dead chicks at home, but her preferred meals involve lots of fresh blood.

So I understand the calm, focused, vigil of this bird. She keeps glancing right, eyeing that bird feeder for her best moment to grab breakfast. I know the folks who live in that house; if they see the event, they will exclaim in horror, ‘oh the poor little birdies!’ But I’m cheering for the hawk; it’s worth knowing she will, for one more day, sit somewhat sated in the afternoon light, preening those ruddy feathers.

PS Helen McDonald writes about the return of the wild boar