Brown Hawk Down
Abilene, Texas

Memoir by
Jo Ann K. Thorp
December 2009

Dogs & squirrels ... & birds

Our yard is an ecosystem clearly run amok. Due to the two oversized dogs, the neighboring cat populations are kept at bay. And, since the dogs have assumed an attitude of entitlement, in true American tradition, all hunting and predatory behavior has been abandoned to lying helplessly on the floor begging for peeled grapes to be dropped individually into their large gaping mouths while being fanned with a giant feather. Consequently, squirrels litter the landscape as herds of them dominate the yard.

The squirrels have become far too comfortable with my presence tending to come faster than the dogs when the dinner bell is rung. They demonstrate no sense of fear and scold ruthlessly should dinner be late or not favorable to their little rodent palates. The dogs will settle for what is left after the squirrels feast.

We do have an amazing population of colorful birds inhabiting the enclosure making for a great deal of natural beauty. A family of hawks took up residence several years ago serving to fascinate and delight. They are incredible flyers and nothing short of majestic in appearance. Texas law prohibits anyone from killing, provoking, taunting, or otherwise irritating hawks, yet ranchers freely do so in the name of manifest destiny, immaculate perception or some other logic. Anyway, the birds are welcome here and are reasonably safe.

A baby hawk on the ground

I like to believe that I am somehow in control of the "goings on" in my little world, so, the other day when I discovered a baby hawk lurking about in the bushes by the house I was freakishly disturbed. He still had his baby feathers and no tail feathers, rendering his flight non specific and chaotic. There was no apparent adult supervision and he looked so vulnerable and exposed it was heart wrenching. Not knowing the ways of the hawk, I concluded that he had been injured during flight training or literally been grounded by his parents for some infraction. Something I did have some experience with having grown up a bit of a wild child.

I called some local bird rescue folks and they informed me that hawk could be placed in a box and taken to the zoo. I concluded that would be a poor idea because once he had been taken to the zoo he would probably want to go to Six Flags then Disney. Where would it all end? And there was the matter of trying to catch a hawk and put him in a box. My husband warned that hawk would probably bite, however, I opined his pecker didn't look that ominous, however further, after much debate an agreement was reached between the humans that someone would likely be injured should capture be attempted. Where is Marlin Perkins of Wild Kingdom when you need him? I had to be content with watching after hawk's welfare.

It didn’t take long for me to decide he was hungry and I began supplying a ground-beef-in-water gruel to give to him. It also didn’t take long for hawk, reveling in his unsolicited gifts of raw meat, to surrender his instinctual fears allowing me crazy proximity. Still, time passed and he would cry balefully for his parents most of the day and into the night. Clearly, he needed more than sustenance, he longed for his own kind. It was becoming quite a pickle.

A Falconer and the Hawk family

I finally found a Falconer (how cool is that?), a guy that raises and hunts with them (on some level that should bother me, however, I am stuck on the overall awesome factor). He explained that baby hawks occasionally "fledge precociously" and cannot return to the nest, which is usually out of their reach. He further informed, "the parents generally find a safe place for the baby to take refuge and continue to feed and raise the chick until it can fend for itself. The only thing that will keep the parents from tending to their baby is a large predator such as ... you." He cautioned that should the parents abandon the chick it would never be able to live freely again.

There was a choice to be made. I could continue my present actions and take this incredible nature baby and turn him into a welfare recipient; forever dependent on an external source of income. Or, trust the natural order of things to unfold as God intended. Hard as it was, I stopped feeding hawk and waited.

As fate would have it, his parents descended to his rescue in short order. They would bring him "take out" twice a day (looked like Chinese from a distance, yuck!) and stand watch over him for several hours at a time. They were truly the most magnificent creatures I have ever seen. Hawk parent's did teach him to fly and brown hawk now soars through the sky with grace and majesty; healthy and happy as nature intended. What he needed all along was for me to stop helping him and get out of the way!

And as life always does, it taught me a valuable lesson. I came dangerously close to taking this wonderful creature, so excited and enthusiastic to start life he literally flung himself out of his nest in wild anticipation, and turn him into a "kept" being. With all good intentions I wanted to make his world safe and secure, realizing later that it was my needs being met not his. It is human arrogance that deludes one into thinking that it is possible or necessary to supplant the Will of God when it comes to taking care of free entities. I was unwittingly willing to cripple this little guy so I could feel somehow safer.

Our choices

Making poor choices is usually a good teacher, and thankfully no permanent harm was inflicted by my insertion into hawk's life. This was a hard lesson and one I apparently needed, It was incredibly difficult to choose what was needed and necessary over my personal wants and desires for baby hawk. Yet, as a collective haven’t we made this an operational mandate? American society, with all purported good intention, has created a burgeoning population who demand they be given all things necessary for survival and comfort.

Yes, they would cry that they have been victimized by any number of abstract circumstances and deserve eternal compensation; however, at what point are we willing to get out of the way and let these people discover their unique ability and purpose? Political rhetoric disguises malevolent intent with words like fairness and equality seducing those who believe they can achieve success, comfort, and security without exerting any personal effort or responsibility. For all their expectations people who want something for nothing generally get just that ... nothing and the price is never realizing their unique potential.

We have replaced the word welfare with entitlement. There has ensued a self-righteous rage consuming those that demand compensation and comfort. The price they pay is sacrificing life's meaning. While we promote and endorse human potential for political gain the country suffers. It is oxymoronic to believe that we improve people by giving them money. All we really accomplish is keeping them helpless, submissive, and entitled.

Hawk's choices

Hawk didn't have the capability to make choices regarding his needs. He was truly at the mercy of those considering ultimate outcomes. It would have initially been easier to provide for his needs with the expectation that he would magically assume his natural role. It is more likely he would have been relegated to a cage where he would have languished never knowing the freedom and heights that were his to take. Unlike hawk, we have choices in our outcomes and we are inexplicably choosing tyranny over freedom. Comfort over responsibility.

As usual, my occasional foray into nature provided yet another important life lesson. Brown hawk reminded that sometimes we simply have to get out of the way and allow for natural consequences to unfold. One is more likely to find their way when left to figure things out and discover their own voice in this crazy world. Seeing brown hawk take his rightful place in the world, flying gracefully through the air is a Godly gift. I am thankful hawk did not become a caged creature handicapped by my inadequate interference making him a liability rather than an asset in this world.

Experience continues to confirm that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" at best; or, worst-case scenario, avarice. I found a baby hawk feather on the doorstep yesterday. While I could take this as a sign of thanks for helping hawk, I prefer to accept it as a cosmic show of gratitude for letting hawk "be". Sadly, I cannot make the same claim for the squirrel population, they are hopeless. I will continue to support their little welfare / entitlement world and resign myself to living with squirrels gone wild until nature deems otherwise.


© 2009 Jo Ann K.Thorp

Jo Ann Thorp is a former psychotherapist
in private practice in Abilene, Texas

Cooper's Hawk - Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cooper's Hawk - The Peregrine Fund

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