living fossil

A Noble Alliance

Experiences training my first red-tail

Text by Rolfe M. Radcliffe with photographs by Alain Giroux


A Hawk For My Son

Mopane and I shared many experiences with our first hawk. We chased squirrels around the house. It was a spectacle with exciting flights, jumping squirrels, and a nervous falconer. We pestered field mice in the snow. Once while I was kneeling beside the hawk, I dug into the snow where she was clinging to something stubbornly. A black vole emerged, and Hawky swallowed it whole. And she sometimes hassled snakes on the ground. She loved to jump onto the snakes as they lay sunning peacefully on the forest floor. Each time I gathered her up, she would immediately swallow the snake like a child slurping spaghetti.

Our short, noteworthy season was over. We learned many lessons with that first hawk. Many more lay ahead.

A Gift On Earth Day
Earth Day, April 22, 2007
In the morning, Mopane and I met John Parks, master falconer and director of the Cornell Raptor Program, who placed an aluminum band on my hawk. When that was done, we went to the farm where we had shared countless experiences with the hawk. We gorged Hawky on a ruffed grouse right before releasing her. She fed eagerly, finishing the breast and legs, then sat at ease with a bulging crop. Mopane and I released Hawky behind the house where we often hunted. As we held the hawk together, Mopane removed the hood, I cut the anklets, and she was free.

Hawky looked at us and pivoted on our gloves. Mopane and I were sad. She flew to a nearby tree and hopped from branch to branch enjoying her newfound independence—scratching, rubbing, and preening. The young hawk moved higher into the trees and soon flew off into the forest. Tears fell, and we said goodbye. We left her to the forest. I remember thinking, what a gallant bird . . . brave, spirited, and honorable. And what a noble alliance: hawk and falconer. As Mopane and I walked back to the farm we knew we were lucky, blessed with an extraordinary friend—our first hawk.