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Winchester-Nabu Detective Agency Year Six: Case File No. 24-284

hawk in tree

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Where We Left Off:

The wild turkeys are getting more and more stressed by the human activities in the area disrupting their environment.

The Jayhawkers:

On the first of September, Gus and I made our way to the back border of the Winchester-Nabu estate. I put the usual snacks for the critters on the big rock and under the red maple tree. Gus was doing an excellent job of observing the creatures without trying to get rough with any of them. In fact, a brave grey squirrel descended the tree, bypassed the full bird feeder, and made it to the ground  right near Gus without him going after it.

The Blue Jay Gang has been mostly working well with the Chipmunk Mafia. They have some occasional tussles, but from our perspective those brawls look more like accidents than intentional fights. However, the jays are still touting their muscle. It’s all because of the gang’s growth in numbers.

The bird population, especially the blue jays around here, had such a scare. They had their own pandemic. It could have been some variation of the bird flu, but none of the state’s announcements claim that it was. It was handled as a mysterious disease that easily spread among songbirds. Then one day, it wasn’t a threat any longer. The warnings stopped coming from Animal Control and the state DEP said it was safe to feed the birds again.

These ballsy blue jays are territorial. What’s interesting to note is that they don’t interfere with other birds their own size. The woodpeckers chase each other. The robins will chase anyone. Those blue jays will demonstrate a pecking order, but for the most part they considered the chipmunks their biggest competition. That is until September.

We have a pair of red-tailed hawks that I spotted together back in May. Hawks will pair up for mating obviously, but they are also cooperative hunting partners when they want to be. When one is perched in a tree or on a wire, it can be so still that it’s easy to miss the sighting. This is when having a partner like Gus helps. If he sees something, his body language changes. There’s “sitting still” and then there’s “Gus intently watching and being still to be sneaky.”

On this particular September day, the blue jays had been enjoying time with the rest of the small birds and chipmunks getting their meal when suddenly, the jays took off. They left the area around the small red maple and went to the much taller trees around the perimeter. Gus came over and sat next to my feet. His attention left the snacking chipmunks. This was one of those times when I knew Gus had sensed something out of place—different but fitting in. I looked at his face and then followed his gaze which was focused on this enormous cluster of dead trees that merge together at their bases. It’s really five trees that didn’t have enough space to themselves.

I saw the blue jays flying around the high up dead branches. A shadowed figure perched. Larger than a jay. I doubted myself immediately. Maybe it was the sunlight and shadows. I looked through my camera with the zoom lens attached and focused in on that far away mass. I was definitely shaped more like a raptor than a jay. What were those blue jays thinking? They circled around the hawk getting closer and closer. Were they out of their damn pea-sized minds?

“Mated pairs typically stay together until one of the pair dies.” — (Cornell)

I was able to snap a few photos (not great) of the hawk before it decided the Blue Jay Gang numbers were too much for a fair fight. That hawk easily could have taken one out at a time, but its opponents were like a synchronized swimming team—half diving while the other half backed off in swooping lines. The hawk had enough of that shit and took off heading northeast.

redtailed hawk taking off

A couple of weeks later, Gus and I were around the big maple tree which is half-dead and looking terribly unwell. This is in close proximity to the rock fortress where I put out snacks for the critters on the red brick in one corner. I’ve been able to keep up with Munka Kelly’s pregnancy check-ups because of this location. Pietro Maximunk, possibly the father of Munka’s babies, frequents this spot now although his home allows him to be equidistant to where his pregnant sister, Wanda Maximunk, and her mate Chipcent Donofrio live. Pietro has been captured by Gus several times!

Anyway, at this location on September 17th, I didn’t need Gus to tell me to look up because I saw the huge shadow and sensed the shift in the air that something large was swooping near my head! I watched this glorious red-tailed hawk land in the maple tree. Gus was busy watching Pietro. Pietro was busy watching out for Gus. And I was awestruck by this predator that could have made a meal out of Gus or Pietro! I doubt even a hawk that sized could lift Gus off the ground, but those talons and sharp hooked beak could definitely kill or maim him. Pietro was petrified. I could tell he didn’t know whether to move or dive into the ivy. He looked at me as if begging for help. I think my presence was all that was needed, because the ice blue eyes of that hawk saw me near the chipmunk.

Other than the Renaissance Fair’s Birds of Prey showcase, this was the closest I’d ever been to a hawk. You can probably tell by decent photos.

The Grumpy Old Man wasn’t far away. He was sitting in one of the chairs on the back porch. The hawk would have to land on his lap for him notice. He doesn’t wear his hearing aids so he never knows when I’m saying something to him like, “Holy cow! Look at that!” Neither of us knows ASL (although my friend taught me how to sign bullshit which I do use from time to time). Eventually, I got his attention, but it was after the hawk left the maple tree.

redtailed hawk flying

The hawk flew over to a smaller flowering tree where it stayed for maybe a minute or two. Then it soared low right by us as it went a few houses away to someone else’s backyard. No chipmunks were on the menu from our yard that day.

Gus was feeling proud of himself. “I’ve caught chipmunks, no problem. And I have to chase them! Through bushes! That big ass bird must be some lazy millennial.”

“Gus, you’re probably more of a millennial than that hawk although I’ve read the oldest age recorded for a red-tailed hawk was 30,” I said.

“What did that bird expect? That I was going to hand Pietro over? Not gonna happen,” Gus told me.

“What if the hawk wasn’t looking for a meal but was doing something else? Like distracting all of us while its partner did something?” It reminded me of The Illusionist and how distractions are the main way to get an audience to believe in the magic trick. Plus, I recently watched Derren Brown’s Miracle performance again.

When we got inside, we talked it over with Oliver to get his opinion. He was just finishing up his yoga with The Cook.

“Obviously, Gus is incorrect. Hawks are never lazy. They are like other predators and will nab the weakest, the injured, or the slowest prey around. I think the human may be on to something with this distraction theory,” Ollie said.

The boys were served treats. They took turns at their favorite of all the water fountains. Then we reconvened in the bedroom around the catnip and grass planter.

Once properly sated, Ollie continued. “Think of it as Three Card Monty except in this case it’s Two Card Monty. I bet anything that hawk’s mate was nearby waiting for us to be distracted.”

“Waiting to do what, is the question,” Gus said.

Case Findings:

We have to admit, the appearance of the red-tailed hawk around viable prey was alarming. The fact that the bird gave up without trying to catch anything is a mystery. We opened a case file, but can’t figure out what the hawks are up to.

Case Status: Open

seagull playing 3 card monty

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