Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Young Red-tail Learns a Lesson

Young red-tailed hawks at Somme are often fun. They’re relatively fearless, and they do goofy things  on the way toward being a grown-up. You can tell them from the adults by the lack of that deep red tail. But you can also recognize them by their actions.
Lisa Culp was “sneaking up” to photograph one, when she realized it just wasn’t much concerned about her. Suddenly it flew down and landed in a nearby shallow puddle. It looked intently into the water, wading around with splashes dripping off its legs. What was it seeing? It’s own handsome reflection? Checking the puddle later, Lisa found no frogs, no animals of any kind.
Red-tail youth (above left) starts its ferocious dive

For its next display 
of inexperience, 
the hawk decided 
to hunt ducks. 
Adult red-tails 
don't regularly try that, 
and the youngster 
showed us why. 
It first perched 
over a pond 
where mallards were swimming and repeatedly 
swooped down on them. 

In each case 
the ducks easily scooted out of the way with startling splashes, 
leaving a confused hawk, 
again perched, 
studying them, 
and trying again.

The ducks could  
have flown away, 
or just swum to 
a different part of the pond. 
But no, they treated 
the hawk as 
a clueless nothing.

Male (left) and female (center) mallards watch
as wet hawk (right) tries to get airborne again

At one point, 
the hawk actually dove at them such that it ended up stuck 
down in the water of the pond 
and had to go through 
some gymnastics 
to get itself airborne again.   
The mallards hardly even 
moved away.

After many tries 
and much loss of energy 
(to say nothing of pride), 
the red-tail returned to normalcy, surveyed the grassland, 
pounced on a mouse, 
and perched on a dead limb to eat it. 

“I had hoped for duck. Well, it’s mouse again,” it seemed to say. 
The hawk was learning 
its own nature. 

It's a pleasure having this handsome animal figuring out how to be itself at Somme Prairie Grove. 
I want to say to it, "Little one. You're getting better and better. You'll have 
that rich red tail and be a fine and full-grown hawk some day. You're doing great." 
I hope we can all learn from our mistakes with dignity as well.

All photos taken by Lisa Culp on March 28, 2013 at Somme Prairie Grove


Steve Halm said...

Do not mess with the ducks. Mess with the mice.

Heeyoung Kim Botanical Art said...

Amazing photos and writing! And a very cute hawk! Love them all!