Thursday, April 08, 2004

I saw a hawk outside my workplace on Monday evening.

Just as I exited the building, I heard the noise of a jay squawking and carrying on. He was pretty miffed about something, and I looked up to see where the noise was coming from.

High in a tree, I saw the jay doing the scolding. Somewhat farther down, I saw a bird that appeared to be mostly white with some light-to-medium-brown markings. The way it was perched allowed me to see its body and tail, but not its head because the branch it sat on was blocking my view.

At first, I thought it might be a pigeon, but in this area, pigeons never seem to perch in trees. Honestly. If you live in the Philly/South NJ area, pay attention to it and you'll notice that you NEVER see them sit in trees. Roofs, telephone wires, awnings, windowsills, yes. Trees, never.

So there I stood, several yards away from the base of the tree, wondering if this mostly-white bird was a pigeon who was trying something new. Then I realized that the shape of the body and tail were just wrong for a pigeon, plus the more I looked at it, the more I thought that this bird was just too large to be a pigeon. In fact, I could think of lots of things that the bird WASN'T, but that wasn't helping me ID what he WAS.

I wanted to get closer and view the bird from a different angle, but that would have involved walking under the branch where he was perched. Something told me not do to that... I got the distinct sense that he would, and I quote, "mess on my head". I didn't know where THAT thought came from, but I learned long ago not to go against these little instinctive warnings that crop up from time to time. Any time I ignore that sort of thing, I live to regret it. So I remained standing where I was, not far from the building's exit.

Another woman came out the door, and asked what I was looking at. I pointed to the bird and asked if she'd ever seen one like it before. She thought it was a duck. I responded, "I don't think ducks perch in trees". (Actually, there IS such a thing as a tree duck, but I've seen pics of those and this bird's markings and body shape were nothing like it. Plus, I didn't think they lived in this region anyway. But I didn't mention all that.)

Just then, the mystery bird changed posture. He leaned forward (though not far enough for us to see his head), raised his tail, and let loose with a prodigious amount of, well... mess. I sure was glad I didn't try walking under that branch! Not to be gross, but I've never seen a bird produce that much, um, output at one time in my entire life. Now I was certain it wasn't a type of bird I'd seen before.

His posture change allowed me to get a clearer look at his legs, and I could see they were heavily feathered most of the way down. That was another cue that I hadn't seen this sort of bird before. Now I was definitely thinking "hawk" or maybe "owl"... though in broad daylight, I wasn't sure how many kinds of owl would be out and about.

The mystery was resolved when the bird apparently thought he saw some prey in the leaves on the edge of the parking lot. Suddenly he launched himself from the tree with a few strong wingbeats, aiming himself at the leaves. He glided downward, coming down forcefully with his talons onto a landing point that was out of sight behind some parked cars. Now there was no room for doubt that he was a mostly-white hawk with brown markings.

Whatever it was that he'd been aiming at, he must have missed. A moment later, he flew up, with his talons empty, and soared right above the heads of the other woman and me before disappearing.

I'm still trying to look up what kind of bird it was. Signs point to it being an immature red-tailed or ferruginous hawk, since both of those have a light version that seems to fit the description of the bird I saw. If I can find some PHOTOS of the immature light morph of the bird, I'll know for sure if my guess is correct.

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