"Fly Away, High Away, Bye Bye"
By Sari M. Reid

Thud!  I turned around to see a large bird of prey on the ground near our driveway about ten feet away from me.   A bit startled, I winced to think that it had pounced upon a squirrel or some other small critter.

"John look!" I pointed for my husband to see, “It’s a hawk!”

He stopped putting up the Christmas lights for a moment, "Did it catch something?"

"I don't see anything.  Maybe it got away," I replied.

We hunted for clues that would tell us what took place.  The most unusual observation is that as we would advance close to the hawk, it would retreat, but would not fly away. 

“Get the camera!” said John with much anticipation of what would come next.

During the photo shoot, I made slow moves snapping away at every step.  Through the camera eye, I was fascinated by the hawks beautiful upper body in deep browns, blacks and white feathers.  The belly was white, speckled with dark browns and the upper chest in light golden softer feathers.  The topside of the tail had a distinguishing rusty red color.  The hawk sprawled out its wings and leaped into the woods. I then realized I was beginning to get too close to a wild bird, so I decided to leave it alone. 

We quickly finished our decorating.  Out of curiosity, John looked for the hawk and I followed him. We searched where we last saw it.  John followed the sound of some small birds making a racket.

"Sari, there it is!" John softly whispered.  The hawk was perched on a stump in our neighbor's yard.

I noticed a vulture flying above and the two small birds seemed to be harassing the hawk.  The little ones flew away when we approached the hawk as it remained unbothered.  I was able to take more of my wildlife pictures. 

“It appears to be favoring one wing," John pointed out.  We discussed what to do with an injured bird. I expressed that I had very little pity for a bird of prey.  I was thinking if you wait long enough, the vulture needs to eat and the two little birds now had an upper hand of the situation.  But, John had more compassion and said, "I will contact the DNR.” DNR stands for the Department of Natural Resources.  The closest one was from Amicalola Falls State Park.  He went inside to make the call. 

“... Can you have someone come over to check out a hawk that is injured and cannot fly?” A moment later, he hung up and told me, “Lauretta is coming over.  She handles injured birds of prey.”

We often go to Amicalola Falls Lodge with its spectacular mountain views. We know the faces of the park rangers, but we did not know all of their names.  I said, “It might be the blond lady, who gives demonstrations of snakes and birds at the lodge.”

I was thinking of what to name the bird since it had landed on our property. “How about naming the hawk, Biscayne, since that is the name of our subdivision?”  John agreed.  It seemed like a long wait and Biscayne eventually hopped off of the stump and strayed into a patch of burrs deep in the woods.

Lauretta finally arrived with large leather gloves.  I instantly recognized her.  She was the park ranger, who I was thinking about.  We introduced ourselves and then John pointed in the direction of the crippled bird.

Lauretta was talking calmly to the hawk as she made way into the thicket.  As she approached about five feet away, it broadened out its wings make itself look monstrous to discourage this intruder.  When she was about to pick it up, the maimed bird rolled onto its back to free all eight talons, four on each foot and was ready for combat!  The hawk lashed out several times with its fierce feet!  Lauretta gently, but firmly, grabbed them.  The sharp beak was no match for the thick gloves.  She won the struggle and gave refuge for Biscayne, in the security of her nurturing arm.

"She's a four pound, female, red-tail hawk," Lauretta continued as she stumbled and untangled herself out of the thicket, "She wandered into the burrs for added protection and did a good job!  Ouch!”

Lauretta showed a puncture wound under Biscayne's wing and explained, “Crows probably did this to her. If we didn’t rescue her, they would have come back in force to kill her.”  

I suddenly remembered, "Yes, I heard them!  That must be the reason why Biscayne ended up on our driveway.”

"Do you know what a group of crows are called?" asked Lauretta.

"No," we replied together.

"They are called a ‘murder’."

"A ‘murder’... Are you serious?" I asked as I imagined the crows tearing into this beautiful creature.  Lauretta confirmed it was true.

I noticed that Biscayne’s mouth was open throughout the ordeal.  Lauretta explained it was a “distress expression” that birds of prey display when they feel threatened or unsure of their environment.  Lauretta asked us for a box to put Biscayne in for her transport back to the DNR care center.

"I think I have one in the attic that would be the right size," I said and sped ahead to get it.  When I came down from the attic, I saw John walking in and then... Lauretta followed with Biscayne in her arms!  I had this enormous red-tail hawk in the house!  My two little Yorkshire Terriers went crazy yapping at the uninvited intruder.  I tried to calm down my 4.2 and 6 pound Yorkies, but it was futile.  I managed to introduce my dogs to Lauretta over the noise, "Poppy is the smaller one and Sparky is the bigger one."  

"Poppy would be an hors 'd oeuvres for this hawk!" said Lauretta, "And Sparky, well... would be pretty safe from a hawk, but a ‘murder’ could kill her.  If I were you, I would not leave them outside unattended."

"See Sari, what have I been telling you about letting our dogs run free to the mailbox?"  John continued, “I can see the writing on the tombstone - R.I.P.  Sparky was a Yorkie, the ‘murder’ needed no forkie!"

"John!" I scolded right back, "How could you say that about one of our only children!"  We all laughed and I got the message loud and clear.

Halk in Flight

Hawk Stump

Grab Hawk 1

Grab Hawk 2

Lauretta & Hawk

 






Lauretta took away Biscayne in the cardboard box.  After knowing more about red-tail hawks, I became more kindhearted to Biscayne, but I still had reservations concerning my dogs' safety.

For about three weeks, we went back and forth to the park to see how Biscayne was coming along.  “She is such a pig!" said Lauretta, "She grabs two mice one in each claw and snatched a third one with her bill!"  She continued, "Another time, she even bullied a male hawk and took his food.” She told us about how to feed captive birds of prey. First, you order frozen dead mice.  Second, you defrost them. And finally, you put them in the cage to be eaten. She said, "The mouse supplier ends his phone calls with, 'Have a mice day!'”  We all laughed.

Two weeks or so after New Years, we visited the park again on a Sunday. Lauretta said to John, "She's ready to go home!  Let me go get her so you can release her back into your neighborhood."

"You want me to do it?" John asked in disbelief.

"Yes," she said, "You found her, so you should release her."  John looked at me with such excitement that I dreaded becoming a typical killjoy wife, but I had to voice the need to protect my dogs.  Lauretta insisted it was the proper way to release a wild bird, "She needs to go back to her own territory."  She was right and I had to go along with it. 

Later, Lauretta came back with Biscayne.  She showed John how to place her in a portable bird box with the two leather gloves.  He did so without incident. 

On the way home, there was this overwhelming thrill from transporting a wild hawk in back of our truck.  When we arrived, I took some time to call a few neighbors with children to see the release.  It was one of those occasions you want to share with everyone.  John was completely immersed in the moment.  He unlatched the box and opened the door with baited breath!  He said, "Go play!" like he always does when he captures a mouse, bug or a spider in the house and lets them go outside.

We waited... and waited....... and waited.  Biscayne just sat there on her perch!  It was uneventful for a while; some light laughter came from the crowd.  John tried to coax Biscayne out of the box by tipping it forward... she only leaned back to keep her balance. This happened several times. It was getting quite comical.  He even added a little tap... still nothing.

The main attraction drew more neighbors interested in what was going on at the Reid residence.  You could see Biscayne getting tense from the growing crowd of curiosity seekers which had continued to grow.  And then she made her first move! Biscayne crouched down on her perch, assessing her environment with tongue sticking out, fidgeted a bit then she swooped out gracefully into freedom! She made this magnificent sharp left bank towards a tall tree. She landed on a branch effortlessly, drawing her two outstretched wings close to her once again. We all cheered for her!

The crowd disbursed and John and I walked inside talking about the story having such a nice ending. I asked John how he felt handling such a majestic winged creator in his hands.

He replied, "As you know, I have flown solo in a plane before and this experience surpassed it tenfold!"

Later, John stepped outside at the doorstep and Biscayne flew right above John and screeched several times.  I grumbled, “I hope she doesn’t think we have thawed frozen mice!”

The first year, we occasionally saw her flying around and sometimes with a mate. She appeared to have adapted well. We told many people about the story thinking that was the end of it... fly away, high away, bye bye!

Then one morning, we drove about a half a mile away from our house on a small country road.  And a hawk, with prey, flew right across the front of our truck at low attitude and dropped whatever it was on the pavement!  John stopped immediately.  The hawk continued to fly towards some trees at the edge of the large field next to the road.  "Do you think it's Biscayne?" 
"Possibly," John replied.

I became very uncomfortable as John put the truck in park right in the middle of the road. John quickly grabbed a manila folder from the floorboard and got out to see if the small animal was still alive.

“If it is injured, let the hawk finish it off!” I cringed with anticipation of the final verdict.  I saw John scooping it up and he placed it into the tall grass next to the road and then he rushed back to the truck. I pointed out to him where the hawk had perched itself on a tall Georgia pine. It appeared to be watching everything.  When John sat down, I cautiously questioned, “What was it? Was it bleeding? Was it dead?”

“I didn’t see any blood,” he replied, “but, it is a mole and appeared to be alive but maybe in shock.”

John handed me the folder and I saw a bright red smear on it.  My stomach churned in a helpless regret, “It’s bleeding, what do we do? Do we save the mole? Will the hawk find it and eat it?" 

All that he could reply was, “I don’t know."  Not knowing was unsettling.

John added a little reminder of hope for me, "The mole is still alive."

"But, it's injured," I gasped, “What a horrible ending to our beautiful story!”  It was hard to accept that nature will ultimately take over regardless of what any tale I could tell.  I convinced myself that our adventure had finally ended...  I was wrong!

I am not exaggerating and I am telling you the truth:  Less than 15 minutes after the rescue of the mole, still distraught, I walked into a pharmacy and I was astonished at what song I heard playing in the background… It was “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” by Elton John.

Here are some of the lyrics:  “…And someone saved my life tonight sugar bear…You almost had your hooks in me didn’t you dear…Sweet freedom whispered in my ear…Fly away, high away, bye bye…They’re coming in the morning with a truck to take me home…Someone saved my life tonight…So save your strength and run the field you play alone.”

So for the sake of my story, I affectionately named the mole "Sugar Bear”.