Red-tail Over Andover by Jason O’Toole

I’m not a vegan, but on this day, I was chomping away on a hickory smoke flavored, beef-less jerky. The red-tailed hawk in the maple tree outside my living room window was definitely not vegan. Puffs of fur floated down from the branch as the hawk worked his sharp beak with skill and immense strength, stripping flesh away from the rodent pressed between talon and tree bark.

Jason O’Toole

I looked through my Nikon binoculars just in time to see the hawk slurp down intestines prior to popping the rest of the eviscerated creature down his throat. He shook twice as he swallowed the last remaining clump, then pecked at the bark around him, not leaving so much as a speck of protein behind.

Genetically, I share more in common with the chipmunk than the hawk. As we are both predators, today’s soy snack notwithstanding, I feel a stronger kinship to the raptor who lives and hunts around our home. I see him prepare for takeoff in the unhurried, deliberative fashion of red-tails, and glide from his perch across the yard.

Moments later he is poised to strike again, his sleek profile a hieroglyphic against a slate sky.

Observing the ground from a rooftop, he soon spots movement in the grass and attacks.

In early February of 2020, I first caught a glimpse of this hawk as a juvenile. He crashed into the yard during an early excursion out of the nest.

Unconcerned about my presence, he bobbled along, exploring hedges and curiously pecked at a tricycle. His light-colored plumage gave him a similar appearance to a juvenile bald eagle. In time, his appearance would change and serve as a camouflage as he would perch in the trees.

The worried chirping, chattering, and screeches of smaller birds and squirrels let me know when the hawk was at work. I would follow these cries to their source and find the hawk staring down at me from a branch or rooftop, and a few times, I found him on the ground tearing into a fresh kill. The hawk came to be as accustomed to my presence as I was to his. He would lock eyes with mine and silently open his beak as if trying to talk.

One morning after a heavy rain, I glanced out the kitchen window to see him looking up at me, as he cooled his legs in standing water. I walked outside and crouched next to him. He moved closer gesturing with a talon as if to beckon. Perhaps he thought I would have a chipmunk to share? After several minutes of us hunkered down in the wet grass staring at each other he flew into a nearby branch.

His next hunt began, and he let me stand close as a witness.

It is a comfort to know, that red-tails still fly over Andover. Despite the damage we have done to the hawk’s environment, from clearing the woods for our homes and businesses, to the constant polluting, the hawk thrives.

Knowing this, I think, perhaps then, there is a chance for us all.

Jason O’Toole is a Rhylsing Award nominated poet, musician, and elder advocate. He is the author of two poetry collections published by the Red Salon, Spear of Stars (2018) and Soulless Heavens (2019). Recent work has appeared in anthologies, and journals including Neologism Poetry Journal, The Scrib Arts Journal, The Wild Word, and Vita Brevis. He is a member of the North Andover, MA Poet Laureate Committee. Visit Jason’s blog here, find him on Twitter @spear_of_stars and find his publications here.

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