Hawk One Up

  Hawking up

  Ever watch a hawk cough up a pellet?  It’s kind of gross, but interesting nonetheless. 

  The other day just as I walked out of my garage a goshawk swooped in to snatch a chipmunk feeding just below a birdfeeder.  Happened so quickly that I would not have been able to sort it out had not the bird flown high up into and upon a branch of a nearby tree.

  Mercifully, the poor little critter (Sammy) was dead by the time I got binoculars and approached. Goshawks are of the type that dispatch their quarry by ‘footing’.  Repeated rapid application of talons.   Ouch.  Yep, that’d work.

  I was careful at first not wanting to spoil the hard earned meal.  I read somewhere that raptors’ energy requirements are so high that a significant percentage of their attacks (“stoops”) must succeed or they starve.

  Apparently the bird felt secure enough in its position that it paid me no heed whatsoever.  It tore through the small carcass ravenously.  Watching through the binoculars I realized why the editors of natural history films cut quickly away from, say, lions tearing through a zebra. 

  It is too easy to anthropomorphize and imagine one’s self subject of some cruel twist of fate.  Wrong place wrong time. Disrespected the gods – like Prometheus.  Or something. (Just read an article in the New Yorker about the new infestation of Florida by released pets.  Matter of time until a kid ends up lengthwise inside a big snake it said.)

  Anyway, half through the macabre repast the hawk began to choke.  Its beak was opened way obtuse and head jerked quite vigorously up and down.  I thought uh oh, what’ll I do if it passes out and falls to the ground?  If I tried to help, it might turn my hands into mince meat.

  Slowly it dawned on me.  I’ve found and examined owl pellets before, but seen none in production.  Birds of prey have no teeth and thus must  rip their prey apart and swallow by the chunk. 

  Some species definitely engage in torture: they catch and hold, don’t foot, start the meal at the rear of their victim and work forward.  Lying in your bed have you ever thought you heard a baby screaming in the woods?  Likely it’s the scream of a rabbit being devoured by an owl.  Falconers sometimes slit the throat of the unlucky in related situations.  Eases the conscience as well as attenuating the sound effect.

  Their digestive systems slowly separate the stuff, turn the meat into energy and the bones etc into a mass which they regurgitate.  It’d scratch coming out the other end I guess…  These pellets can be picked apart and some pieces identified as feather, hair, bone etc.

owl pellet

  Relieved, my goshawk returned to its meal.  Once done, it took wing and knocked what was left to the ground.  To call what fell picked clean would be an understatement.  To a naïf it would clearly be evidence of some sort of natural horror – actual provenance completely indeterminable.

  Clean plate club.  Parent would be proud. 

*Don’t know if this is more or less gross, but it also did not dawn on me until then where the phrase “hawk up a loogie” originated

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2 Responses to “Hawk One Up”

  1. andrew Says:

    I was wondering where sammie went. If it is between the goshawk or sauger killing sammie i vote that the prize goes to the goshawk.

  2. abby Says:

    ew dad!

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