QUAIL MUTTERINGS #10. My Front Yard (August 6, 2011)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #10. My Front Yard (August 6, 2011)


It’s August 6th, and I’m still listening to and watching the young Cooper’s Hawks. Almost any time of day you can hear their sharp, raspy whistles coming from various areas around our front yard. Most hawks have similar sounding calls, but the volume and timber seem to vary with the species. Lately, I’m hearing both the Cooper’s loud, urgent calls as well as their descending whistles which they can do during flight. The canyon is filled with hawk sounds from daybreak to dusk which I find exhilarating.

These Accipiters careen through the canopy zooming like fighter jets between bushes and expertly threading through tree foliage. They quickly clip around rocks and tree trunks reminding me of a cutting horse skillfully maneuvering around barrels or cattle, except they are much faster and more agile. Sometimes when I’m sitting out on the front porch I feel like I’m observing an air show of F-14’s minus the deafening explosions created when the sound barrier is broken. The Red-tails spend more time up in the sky whereas these guys tend to hang lower, right in our line of sight.

During more calm periods of their day they seem to find respite in the bird bath out front. Now, these are no small birds, mind you. They are quite large, fourteen to twenty-one inches tall with a wingspan of up to three feet. Mostly I see small wrens and Black Phoebes enjoying the shallow layer of water spanning the top of the cement disk. They like to sit on the edge, then hop into the wetness and splash around, and go back to the side to shake off and preen themselves.

But it’s a whole different activity to witness these practically full-grown hawks do the same thing in this small amount of water. It’s during these times when you can notice the dark, broad bands on their tail feathers. Usually, one at a time will fly down and perch on the split-rail fence before hopping over to the bird bath to play in the water and flap around. When he’s had enough bath time he’ll crow-hop over the split-rail fence to the plow handle beyond for a perch. Sometimes they even fly up to the house to sit on the porch railings. I guess I don’t pose too much of a threat to them.

I’m wondering now how much longer these Accipiters will call our front yard their home. I suppose that they too, like my Red-tail friends, will grow up and move on. At least to a larger territory than just my view from the front porch. We leave in a week to take our son up to Chico State University and will be gone for ten days. Will my feathered family still be here when I get back? Or will I miss them too at the end of summer?

Chance feels ready, for the most part, to embark on his new college adventure and I realize, at least in my head, that it’s time for my youngest to spread his wings and leave the nest. But my heart is probably going to have a rough time of it. We’ll both, he and I, embark on a new chapter in our lives. Each of us will practice letting go while at the same time, inevitably, grasp for something new to hold onto. He’ll have his x-country running and engineering classes to focus on, along with a whole host of new college experiences, no doubt. I wish him well and hope he’s ready.

But what about me? Am I ready? Is a mother ever ready either to raise a child, with all those unforeseen situations; or to step back, just enough, when it’s time for them to be on their own? When there are younger ones to continue to care for when the older one leaves, the brunt of the loss is probably not as much. But when it’s my youngest, and the last one, how will it feel?

I remember my mom going through a tough patch when both my sister and I were in college. We just thought she ought to “adopt another kid.” What did we know? Ultimately, she found her way by focusing on her job, but also allowing herself more time to explore her interests. Taking classes, volunteering, working, and caring for her many animals filled the time so that the space in her heart could slowly fill with other things, or at least different proportions of the same things.

Now, as the parents of the young Cooper’s Hawks allow their young more responsibilities to care for themselves, they, the adults, can fly farther away and for longer periods of time. In their world, it’s the adults that leave the children when the time comes. For us, it seems, it’s the other way around.