By Dave Coulter
During our hike Saturday we were stopped in our snowy tracks by the sight of a dead Red-tailed Hawk. It’s frozen body was right in the middle of a horse trail, partially buried in the snow that fell late last week. We looked it over. It had not been shot. We wondered how it died, how it’s body got to that spot on the edge of the woods, on the trail.
The experience turned the rest of our hike’s conversation into an episode of Raptor CSI. It’s kind of spooky to see a dead bird - especially one the size of a Red-tail. I’m not that skittish about these things. As a child we had a cat that was always bringing half eaten songbirds to our back stoop. And there is plenty of avian road kill around town including unlucky Canada geese, for example.
Perhaps it was the setting? Maybe the sight of this fallen warrior was too much in contrast with the beauty of the brilliant sun and the quiet snowy woods. Lying on it’s back the wings of the hawk were tucked up like an angels. I think this is true: if we had seen the dead hawk on the shoulder of the Eisenhower we probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought.
Later on E learned online that Red-tails can live in the wild for upwards of twenty years. Did he die of natural causes? Based on his partially snow covered position we speculated that maybe he keeled over in the snow storm of last week. Maybe it was his time? Or maybe the hawk was left there on the trail by some other creature? Might a coyote or a human have ferried it along before losing interest? We’ll never know with such evidence under a layer of fluffy new snow.
Say what you will, but I felt that the spirit of this hawk deserved a better resting place than the middle of a wooded trail. So I plucked him up and trudged back out to the edge of the woods and left him in view of a sunny open meadow. It certainly was the kind of landscape where a Red-tail would be seen. And who knows, maybe this particular bird did indeed live and hunt in this particular field. If so, he can return to the Happy Hunting Ground from whence he came.