Saturday, September 25, 2010


Driving around late summer and early fall, I always see more redtail hawks than usual, with the light chest glaring from a distance on a telephone pole or wire. Now that I know redtail behavior so intimately, I know full well these are the juveniles from this years brood striking out on their own, trying to earn a living. They're learning the ropes when it come to hunting.

As rookies, or novitiates, they don't have hunting down yet. That's why they perch in some of the oddest and most conspicuous spots. The bird above and below stuck out like a sore thumb right off East Michigan Ave, surveying a patch of mowed grass just outside the junk yard and unusually close to traffic. The juvies cluelessness is a photographers blessing because it means extreme approachability. Any adult redtail, in their right mind, will instantly fly if it senses you approaching within 100 yards. They can be a real challenge. Juvies, however, are a real gift.

The trade off to this easy photographic victory is the absence of the trademark, rust colored tail of the mature red-tail, as well as the less mottled chest. There is a graphic clarity to the adult redtail that makes it a more prized visual, much like the adult bald eagle compared to a juvenile. The adult is simply more beautiful.

What amuses me about the juvy red-tail though is how they remind me of myself when I first took up whitetail deer hunting, particularly with bow and arrow. When I first started, being relatively clueless as to deer behavior, movement, eating habits, and just how damn elusive they can be, I would plunk myself down in the middle of the woods, next to what looked like any old game trail, thinking right at dusk a deer would come sauntering along. Or I would sit a tree stand in a small tree in the middle of an open field, sticking out like a window washer on the side of a building, thinking I was invisible. It's amazing how far I've come. The same will be true for any juvy hawk that survives the passage into adulthood.

The driving force though can be hunger, sharpening the hunting skills as hunger zeros in on prey. All the crazy, trial, hunting zones (the ones that initially felt like a jack-pot) just don't bear any fruit, and any hawk (or hunter) with sufficient processing power, figures this out quickly and moves on. The same was true for me. The only difference being the absence of hunger. I would go home and simply open up the fridge. My learning curve was a tad slower than the hawks.

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