August 27, 2007

Our late summer visitor

I noticed this morning while feeding the chickens that all eight roosters were outside in the pen. This is unusual because the four at the top of the pecking order generally stroll around the pen, lording and swanning around, while the four at the bottom of the pecking order quake and cower on the roosts in their little coop. But they were all outdoors this morning. I neared the door, to fill the feeder and peer into the semi-darkness.

And there I saw a bird on the roost. It didn't look roosterlike, though. It was much more straight up and down, with its head tucked in its shoulder. I whistled, and it raised its head. It was a hawk. In my chicken coop. I quickly and quietly closed the door, and when we got back to the house, instead of proceeding with the chokecherry syrup odyssey, phoned the Fish & Wildlife office in town. I've learned to do a lot of things since moving to the farm, but catching raptors isn't one, and I have a healthy respect for their talons.

An officer turned up on our doorstop before too long, and the kids were all excitement to tumble into the truck and show him our visitor. (I grabbed the digital camera so Tom wouldn't think I'd been hitting the sauce, chokecherry or otherwise, in his absence.) The officer headed toward the coop with a net,

and quickly and easily netted the hawk. Then the untangling,

and identifying. I had thought from my brief glimpse in the partial dark that it might be a young red-tailed hawk but it was a ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis), and regal the young male was. Ferruginous hawks aren't quite as common around here, since their range is a bit further south, usually the southeastern corner of the province. The ferruginous hawk dives for prey from high soaring flights, which is probably how our visitor got between the squares of the page wire over the chicken pen.

And then the best part, when the Fish & Wildlife officer asked the kids if they'd each like to hold the hawk. Davy kept his distance and said no, thanks, but Daniel and Laura were eager. The officer helped them grab the bird's legs (thank goodness for kids who keep work gloves at the ready) and then let each child hold the bird alone. Daniel got to go first,

Laura went next

and later got to release the hawk, I tried to snap pictures as quickly as possible, and then the cautious Davy got to ride partway home in the officer's truck and sound the siren and the lights (needless to say, more than one of the kids has added "Fish & Wildlife officer" -- or junior falconer -- to the list of possible desirable occupations). After Laura released the hawk, throwing her arm up high and steadily as instructed, our young friend took off for the trees at the edge of our corrals to rest and recuperate from his adventure,

It's almost enough to make me sorry that the kids aren't headed toward a regular classroom next week, so they could answer the old question: What did you do on your summer vacation?!

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