Chapter 12 – Red Harris Hawk
Red was taking a break from his normal territory, gliding and turning on the thermals outside the city. He normally hunted with his parents and one sibling, but today he thought he’d go out on his own. He was hunting, yes, but with only one hawkish eye on the ground below, the other on the clouds above. You might think this would make him a bit cross-eyed, but the eye on the clouds was his mind’s eye, where his imagination allowed him to play with the joy of the flight, the swoop of the dive, the rapid ascent. Oh, the thrill and beauty of hawk flight, he thought.
Harris hawks are a beautiful bird with heavy bodies and full wings to support that body—dark reddish brown on the back with a flash of white in the tail and a white to tan underbody, large thick talons and a beak for tearing prey. They are formidable birds of prey. And the most unusual thing about them, they are one of the few hawks that hunt cooperatively. Often, you might see one perched on a rooftop, another on the next rooftop, and one or two on the ground trying to flush rabbits or rodents or lizards for the others to dive upon. It was a most successful method for hunting.
Today, however, Red was less inclined to hunt than to enjoy the flying. He loved to soar on flapless wings high above the city and surrounding territories, turning in slow revolutions, first up, then down, and around and around. His eyes never failed to scan the earth below, though. The joy of flying was one thing but food on the table was another. It was early in the afternoon when he spotted movement below. A rabbit, a small lizard, and a scruffy-looking cat, all trudging southeast along the dry streambed that moved from the mountains in the north down through the valley, cutting a tired, parched swath between this retirement city and the one to the east of it.
Well, now, he thought, this is too good an opportunity to pass up. With that thought, he folded his wings and went into the killing dive. Down and down like a mortar shell, faster and faster, a dark arrow which grew larger and larger as he approached. The rabbit was his target. Rollie was totally unaware of the danger about to strike from out of the brilliant sky above him. He was tired from their long hike and at that moment decided to rest beneath a small sage bush. Fara and Fred were about to join him when they first saw a dark streak right next to them, then a loud whomp of sage branches breaking. Red had crashed into the sage and was now holding Rollie with talons that couldn’t quite grip him because of the sage leaves and branches between them. But he had Rollie trapped between his legs even though he couldn’t get his beak anywhere near the rabbit.
Suddenly, Red heard a shriek of anger, a loud hiss, and then he felt Fara as she landed on his back with all four legs extended, all twenty toes with all twenty claws out and sinking through Red’s body feathers.
“Oh, no, you don’t, Mr. Bird! You will not hurt my new friend! You will leave him alone or I will stay on your back forever! You’ll be known as the hawk with the cat on his back!” She continued hissing as she clamped down with her claws. And anyone who has ever felt a cat when that cat wants to sink her claws into a hand or a leg knows just what it feels like. It doesn’t feel good.
Red flapped his wings in an effort to dislodge the cat. He released his taloned feet from around Rollie and fell backwards out of the sage bush. But Fara would not be brushed off. Red rolled around on the ground but still she held on. Then a tiny bullet whistled into Red’s vision. Then he felt a tiny peck on his head. He tried to see what new annoyance he had to deal with. Then there was a whizzing around and around his head. From his last encounter with the tiny irritating hummingbird, he remembered what that experience was like.
Dizzy and dusty and frustrated, he shrieked, “All right! All right! Just let go of me and I’ll be on my way! I certainly wouldn’t want you attached to my body for the rest of my days. What would the other Harris hawks think?”
“How can I trust you not to turn on us when I let go of you?” Fara asked. “Hawks are not known as the most trustworthy of creatures.”
Rollie and Fred, along with Buzz and Millie, were now safely gathered into the depths of a larger sage bush, and they watched in amazement as the two fought.
Red said, “I’m on the ground now and you can run much faster than I can. So it isn’t a matter of trust. You simply win. And I lose. Now, let me go!”
Fara withdrew her claws and leaped from the bird’s back, then dashed to the sage bush to join her new friends.
Red stood, flapped his wings to remove some of the dust and indignity of his failed attempt to get Rollie, threw an angry glance at the bush, and then, with heavy wings, flew off.
“Oh, I hope no one ever hears this story,” he muttered to himself. “It would be just my luck that some blabbermouth turkey buzzard was floating above and saw it all. He looked all around him and saw no buzzards, no hawks, no birds of any kind who might have borne witness to his humiliation. “Enough of flying outside my territory. I’m heading home, where life is a bit easier than out here in the wild.”
* * *
“You were wonderful, Fara,” Millie said to her new friend. “But why did you do that? Why did you jump on that huge bird that could have taken you apart without even batting a hawk’s eye?”
“I did it because I owed Rollie my life. Without him I too would be dead right now. It was the least I could do.”
“I’m certainly glad you were around,” Rollie said as he wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. “That hawk would have had me for breakfast if you hadn’t come to my rescue.”
“But I had to do it. I had no choice. You saved me, and I saved you. Now we’re even. But even if we weren’t even, I’d come to help you no matter what happened. I owe you my life, even though my life before I met you wasn’t worth much.” She looked down, scuffed one scruffy foot in the dust, and then looked back up at Rollie and Fred and Buzz and Millie. “I’ve been alone for as long as I can remember. I don’t know if any of my brothers and sisters are still alive, but I think they probably aren’t. So I treasure this friendship I have with you, even though it hasn’t been for very long. You’re my family. And I’d do anything not to lose one of you.”
“Fara, we feel the same about you.” They all echoed each other, even Fred, who never trusted many creatures that much larger than he was, especially a cat who didn’t look all that well fed to begin with. “We’re glad you joined us to add to our adventures,” Rollie said. “And you can stay with us till the very end, when we find the place we’ve been looking for.”
They continued up the streambed, working their way to the southeast until the afternoon waned, the light in the west turned golden, the shadows lengthened until there were three tall travelers marching along with them, a long tall rabbit, a wide lizard, and a Halloween kitty with long legs and a tail that bobbed and weaved well above the desert landscape.