Part of my daily routine here at Rock's Roost is an afternoon feeding which I refer to as "tea." During this daily ritual, I scatter a few sunflower seeds up by the garage, where they are stored in a squirrel-proof metal garbage can, for the chickens - if they see me head to the garage and gather there waiting. Then I take some sunflower seeds and dry dog food down to the penned-up peacocks who anxiously await their late-in-the day treat. On the way back to the house I stop by the chicken coop and gather the day's final few eggs.
This past Saturday things went pretty much as usual until I entered the hen house to look for eggs, There, just inside the door, sat a young hawk on the floor looking quite startled by my sudden arrival. The hawk had just ripped the head off of one of my pair of little banty roosters. Many of the other birds and the turkey were hiding at the far end of the coop trying not to draw the hawk's deadly attention.
I had a plastic cup in my hand, the vessel that had been used to carry the sunflower seeds to the peacocks. I threw the cup at the small hawk and she rose into the air trying desperately to find her way out of the small building. Finally she hit the open door and was free. I gathered up the broken cup, tried my best to calm the excited poultry, and removed the dead bird from the premises.
(There was no doubt in my mind that the little rooster had flung itself at the invader in an attempt to protect the hens. Last year when the neighbor's dog came over to kill hens, the tally wound up being one hen and two roosters. The male chickens may be a nuisance at times, but they are valiant unto death.)
Thirty minutes later I went back into the hen house to make sure that the girls had settled down, and when I entered I again found the young hawk sitting on the cement floor. Fortunately I arrived before she had time to kill anything. I gave chase, but again she managed to flee. Since that incident I have made numerous surprise visits to the chickens' quarters, but the hawk has not reappeared. I suspect she has a nest somewhere nearby and is just biding her time.
This isn't my first up-close-and-personal encounter with a hawk. Back in 2005 I was living in an upstairs apartment in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, when I worked at Ft. Campbell. I had a bird feeder out on my balcony that attracted large numbers of birds and squirrels - and was always a riot of activity. One day I happened to notice that the activity around the bird feeder was much quieter than usual, and a quick glance outside enlightened me as to why. A very large hawk had taken up a position on the balcony railing and was daring any other feathered creature - or squirrel - to venture close to the birdseed buffet. My friend, Sandy Price, who was into all sorts of new age stuff, told me that a hawk was a sign of good luck, and she gave me a hawk card to commemorate the occasion.
Somehow I don't think my young rooster felt any luck at all as this small hawk ripped his head off. And somehow I suspect that I have not seen the last of her.
Despite being savage killers, hawks are also quite elegant birds whose "lazy circles in the sky" and watchful eyes have inspired many poets to put pen to parchment. Ted Hughes, a one-time British Poet Laureate and the husband of Sylvia Plath, had this to say about the graceful predator:
by Ted Hughes
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.
The convenience of the high trees!
The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth's face upward for my inspection.
My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot
Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly -
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads -
The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:
The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.