Mixed feelings on red tail hawks

Published 10:25 pm Friday, June 9, 2017

The red tail hawk is not endangered.  Never has been as a matter of fact even though it is illegal to shoot one.  Where I grew up, they certainly were endangered. My late father was of the notion that any living thing that encroached on our yard was fair game for his double barrel shotgun.   That included hawks and hoot owls. Especially any snake of any description.

Nothing could be more nauseating to a farmer who was trying to make a living which included management of three or four hens, a milk cow and a few hogs than to lose one to a varmint or predatory avian.

There was no patience or sympathy extended to a fox in the henhouse, devious hawks who could fly off with biddies in its talons—biddies would eventually become egg laying hens, you know—skippers spoiling your smokehouse hams, screwworms which would curtail your bacon production and, God forbid, an egg sucking dog.

When any of the foregoing became trespassers, or irritants, there was no reluctance to bring closure to the situation.  Life expectancy for any of the above diminished when they came into our yard.

The varmints soon discovered that no clemency would be forthcoming. My father was an advocate of the Bible which meant that Old Testament logic—an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth—prevailed.

The one which matched wits with him best was the wily red hawk which acted as if he had semaphore training and was happy to flash his presence by lighting on the power line across the road from our house.  A few were wont to challenge that old double barrel and soon were on the way to that great raptor’s habitat in the sky.  I thought of those survival times recently when I showed up for an event at the University of Georgia tennis stadium which adjoins Foley Field, the baseball facility.

The light pole in left center field has had a red tailed hawk living there for years.   Chuck Steen and Steve McGrath, who work security for Georgia athletic events, say they can’t remember when there wasn’t a red tail hawk nesting on that pole.  The calling card of her and her mate can be found on the pavement below.  Passersby sometimes get decorated since red tail hawks are not discriminatory.  You walk by and you are fair game.

A call went out to the University’s wildlife office, and I was connected with Dr. Bob Cooper who said we should be kind to the red tail hawk.

They don’t, he explained, eat other birds so we are not likely to get up early in the morning without hearing the birds welcome us to a new day.

Red tail hawks eat snakes, including those which are venomous. That made me feel good since I have had an enduring antipathy for those dastardly creatures since learning about Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit.

Hawks, my dad’s sentiments notwithstanding, have a look of resourcefulness, especially the red tail hawk which is so commonplace. They always seem alert with cunning eyes and anticipatory instinct. They remind you of eagles with sharp talons, invasive curved beaks and an envious eyesight which would overwhelm Superman.

Hawks have few enemies.

Except for red foxes, great horned owls, raccoons, larger hawks and eagles, not many animals eat hawks which have few national predators, according to the Internet.

While I grew up with the presence of hawks lurking constantly, and with an ambivalent attitude about them, I never had a quarrel with them.

Even now, I don’t have any contempt for them and hope that nobody will disturb the family in left center at Foley Field. After all, the hawk was the messenger of Apollo, and in ancient Egypt, the hawk was a royal bird.

The red tail hawk has my respect.

However, if any hawk were to nest in my yard, my attitude might undergo change.  Droppings on my car, my walkway or my person would be offensive and would cause great alarm.

Not sure if I could find that old double barrel shotgun, but I would likely succumb to my father’s view that trespassing hawks should not be the beneficiary of sympathy.