Lords of the Winter Sky

Painting of a young Red Tailed Hawk, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2003

I’ve watched two Red Tailed Hawks fly from tree to tree this morning, right over my chicken yard.

It would seem this would be a disaster- in- the- making for the chickens, but as huge as these birds are, they can’t lift a chicken.  They hunt by other manuvers.

This last summer we caught a young (he was so stupid) RT who landed in our chicken yard and then didn’t know what to do.  Our dogs cornered him and our son rescued the bird and put him in the cat house (minus cats…) for a couple of hours to see what was broken or insulted.  The bird was fine, and we let him go after a few hours.    He was a dark shadow soaring above the now-darkening mass of kudzu and a haunting specter had we not just held him in our arms.

The mature birds, and these two this morning were….will fly down from the 120 foot Live Oaks and settle down quietly.  The hens know, and seem to have a plan ready.  They cluster and get silent, and any straggler hen is the one that gets jumped upon.

Red Tails are big and rather clumsy birds.  They have a wind span to 6 feet and weight about 3 lbs.  That’s not a lot of weight. I’ve had chickens that were easily 4 lbs.

So a Red Tail can’t swoop down and kill a chicken like a falcon.  She has to kill from the ground.  I saw one Hawk fly on the ground onto a hen’s back and try to kill her.  I chased her off, but the hen just sat there, not moving.  I thought perhaps she was in shock, but uninjured.  The next day she was dead….still sitting there.  I think perhaps, deep in the memory folds of animals are their knowledge something of the food chain.

They know their place.  We should learn.

The Hawks this morning were a beautiful sight.  They flitted, if flitted isn’t too trifling a word to describe their flight….from closely-grown Live Oaks and played tag in these two huge trees in the backyard.  They were mature enough Red Tails to have the brick red tail feathers, so they must have been at least 2-5 years old.  They were so marvelously matched, and having them so close, even though I had a large glass window between us on the second story…..I would flinch when they flew by.  They were that close, or perhaps….they were that big.

My hens were protected by Gally ….whose formal name is Galahad, a big mook of a shepherd and Great Dane. He was a stray and just his Tyrolean bark declares this to be his property.

Years ago, when I first became interested in the wildlife of the South, I had a mailman who gave me some advice about Red Tails.

They taste like chicken.

Apparently, Red Tails were on the farmer’s menu way back then, and probably are still.  Since they are also called ‘Chicken Hawks’

you can see why  they would be good eating.

Lady Nyo


Chicken Hawk Talk

Chicken Hawk!

Leave my chickens alone!

I have worked hard for them,

A handmaiden of fowl.

Collecting beautiful eggs

The gift of the species

Naturally dyed

Pink, brown, blue-green and white.

Presented at Easter,

A symbol of the Lamb of God,

And the Spring of Life.

Leave my chickens alone, hawk.

I won’t even share.

I remember, two short years ago,

When I first saw you wheeling over the kudzu

Riding the thermals,

Not even graced with the brick colored tail of a Proper Redtailed hawk,

And I gasped at your splendor, a winged god

From the cosmos, glittering white ash against a cobalt sky,

And you landed one day in my birdbath,

Trying to look like a stone sculpture,

And just the flicker of your 8x eyes

Looked over the songbirds for lunch.

Jane Kohut-Birdtells

Copyrighted, 2009

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4 Responses to “Lords of the Winter Sky”

  1. Berowne Says:

    If a red-tailed hawk landed in *our* birdbath, he’d look like a hippo in a saucer.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    He did.


  3. Margie Says:

    Nice poem! Reminds me of the hawk we had resting on our fence last year – looking all around before he took off in silence.

    Hope you’ve been well. I’ve been kind of hunkered down – doing some visual art, instead of writing. Working on a mosaic mirror now, 1″ glass tiles in browns and blues and golds. I think it’s going to be pretty.


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Margie!!

    Well, in the wilds of NC in the winter and snow…..hunkering down is the only thing to do this time of the year. And your mosaic mirror sounds great!! I think it will be lovely.

    It’s good to take a break from writing. I’m cleaning floors.



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