Zeke’s back!

January 26, 2008

I drove in the lane yesterday morning and just as I stopped in front of the house a large bird swooped over the truck and jerked to a halt on top of the nearby hydro pole. Zeke’s back.

Zeke is a young red-tailed hawk, one of a pair who grew up in the woodlot last year.

I was a bit taken aback at first by Zeke’s antics last September. It seemed whenever I was driving around the property this large gray bird would fly up behind me and then crash to a stop on a low tree branch and stare at me as I passed.

A check in a field guide soon identified the new character as a juvenile red-tail. This was a large specimen, but quite clumsy, to judge by his landings.

At the time I was doing a lot of mowing with the bush hog to get the fields ready for IPM parking and demonstrations, and I guess Zeke must have been learning how to hunt on his own at about the same time. Somehow he hit upon shadowing the tractor as a good way to find mice. I soon realized that Zeke’s apparent aggression was just adolescent clumsiness, and my new pal could be counted upon to try his swoop-tactic regularly enough to impress visitors.

One day he and a sibling practiced aerobatics above my head while I tried to mow straight rows. The lesson of the day seemed to be the hover. They took turns riding the slight updraft until they stalled, fell into a spin, pulled out with a sideslip, and then watched the other try the same trick. It’s hard to mow around little pine trees when this is going on above one’s head.

Another day we were driving up the lane in the golf cart when I glimpsed what looked like a newspaper blowing across the gate, but it was moving quickly, and against the wind. Zeke was after the cottontail who had avoided the coyotes all summer by sleeping under farm machinery in the barnyard. We carefully nosed through the gate only to spot Zeke perched on the steering wheel of my old Massey, staring intently at the mower. He flapped off in disgust when we disturbed him, and from then on chose the more private hydro pole as his perch.

Anyway, yesterday morning Zeke had returned to his pole. He stared at me for some time as I sat in my truck and watched him. He looks bigger than ever, and magnificent in his new adult plumage. When he realized that I wasn’t about to roll out any mice, he glided through a maple tree, over the bird feeder (ignored by the junkos and goldfinches), and landed at the top of one of the tall maples overlooking the road.

Mom grabbed the binoculars and quickly noticed that Zeke had his eye on the flock of turkeys in the field across the road. Would a red-tail attack a fully-grown turkey?

It took a couple of minutes but the flock caught on to his presence. Then they did a remarkable thing, and my mother recounted this to me, wide-eyed: “They all sort of hunched down and blended together into a long, narrow line of turkeys. Then they walked quickly off into the woods. You couldn’t tell one from the next, they were so close together.”

I don’t know where he’s been, or even if red-tails migrate, but it’s good to see Zeke crashing into the odd tree branch around the house again.

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