Hawk lore

Red-tailed Hawk (photo by Dion Ogust)

I travel the Thruway several times a month, mostly to my chiropractor, who also happens to be my daughter. This normally boring drive is brightened this time of year with by the creatures of the air who inhabit this corridor.

These mostly diurnal (daytime activity) raptors are easily seen while the trees are bare of leaves. I have consistently seen a variety of hawks, some easy to identify, others not so easy. Most are content to sit watching diligently down onto the surrounding area with great patience, waiting for that moment to pounce upon an unsuspecting creature for a meal. 

They can see four or five times farther than a human, and can spot a mouse from 100 feet away. Their eyesight, called “binocular vision,“ is a great advantage to them in finding those wee creatures that make up their sustenance. Depending on the time of day, my success at bird viewing has convinced me that birds, like other creatures, wake up hungry.


The red-tail hawk is the most common and most easily identified at a distance, especially in flight. Its distinct brown tail is easy to spot. It usually flies at 20 to 40 miles an hour, but when diving to catch prey its speed accelerates to 100 miles an hour or more. It mates for life, and only take a new partner if its mate dies.

When I was young our neighbors, the Baldwins, had chickens which free ranged, almost a thing of the past. They were constantly on the lookout for chicken hawks, most likely the red-tail, which would swoop down and snatch up any fowl in and around the property. We city slickers were to learn a new country habit: watching the sky for a glimpse of a dastardly bird that would seize what might have been Sunday dinner.

The red-tail is also found in cities. The non-fiction book, “Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park” by Marie Winn made Pale Male (named for his unusually light color), a red-tail in New York City, famous. He was a real city slicker. People came from all over to catch a glimpse of this celebrated bird and his mate.
They built a nest at this swanky Fifth Avenue address overlooking Central Park, three stories above Mary Tyler Moore and near Woody Allen’s apartment. In the 1990s, the building went co-op, and the management board decided that the leftover pigeons from the hawk’s dinner were fouling the sidewalks twelve stories below. They had the spikes that had supported the nest removed, destroying it.

The hawk lovers and lookers watched with sadness as the displaced pair circled the building. They tried in vain to build a new home, but without supports the nest building twigs fell away. When the plight of these raptors hit the news, the Natural Audubon Society implored the board to reverse its decision. A new platform was built.  It is believed that it is Pale Male’s direct descendants still occupy this now-eight-foot nest.

The kestrel, one of the smallest hawks, has a distinct white patch on its face. It’s often mistaken for a mourning dove or pigeon. A questionable call at Thruway speeds, it’s hard to spot.

I believe I have seen a Coope’rs hawk. They have distinct brown and black speckled feathers. They are an endangered species.

My most interesting encounter was with a crowd of vultures. This kettle (group name) was perched in a tree overlooking a low rock cut, staring intently down at some dying creature, I was sorely tempted to stop and capture the moment. But this highway is not a trail that is safe for photo sessions.

My neighbor who feeds many birds discovered that a hawk had moved into the neighborhood. Convinced that the population of other birds was being diminished, the neighbor searched out to find the nest. It was in the very top of a tree. He borrowed his boss’s lift truck, maneuvered it through the woods, and destroyed the nest. All that work was probably not necessary. Most hawks will just build a new one, very often in the same neighborhood.
Our Indian ancestors believed the hawk represented the messengers of the spirit world. Seeing them meant the universe wanted the viewer to learn powerful lessons or expand their knowledge and wisdom. Seeing hawks means that you are on the right path in life, and your spirit animal is there to make sure you keep on this path. 

The hawk will help you to gain confidence and realize that you have great potential to achieve your goals and dreams. My wish for you is that a hawk crosses your path in your travels.

There is one comment

  1. Laura

    Hawks are beautiful creatures! And often the subject of the Facebook group ‘Hudson Valley in Pictures’ (along with eagles). Thank you for your lovely article.

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