Close Encounters of the Bird Kind


It’s just a mundane task, taking out the trash, but not that day.  With bag in hand I opened the door from the house to the garage and came face to face with a Sharp-shinned Hawk perched no more than 10 feet away on my winter-stored boat.  Piercing startled eyes, his and mine, locked on–who would blink first?  He turned to fly to the light of a closed window and crashed, and crashed again before flying right by me, still frozen in place, to the safety of the open overhead door.

The title picture above is a Red-tailed Hawk, but reproduces well the  Sharpie’s expression during our close encounter.  I know better than to leave the overhead door open.  It has acted as a giant mist net in the past and trapped other smaller birds, Carolina Wren being the most frequent captive.  Later that day I returned to the scene with yet another bag of trash, and my forensic curiosity led me to investigate more thoroughly.  Small red feathers were strewn across the floor and a small bright orange bill lay partially detached from a Cardinal’s head.  I had rudely interrupted that hawk’s breakfast, probably procured from my feeder just outside the door.


Northern Cardinal, RIP (click on any picture to zoom)

My hawk encounter reminded me of Loren Eiseley’s close encounter with a Crow, described beautifully in his classic book, The Immense Journey.  This naturalist’s book has been in my library for 50 years, read and reread countless times.  In the chapter titled “The Judgement of Birds” Eiseley recounts a neighborhood walk in a dense fog, so dense that “planes were grounded and a pedestrian could hardly see his outstretched hand before him.”  Suddenly a large, flying, black body with wings emerged out of the fog at eye level, barely missing the author, and emitted “a frantic cawing outcry of hideous terror as I have never heard in a crow’s voice before.”


American Crow

In typical Eiseley fashion he searched for and found a deeper significance in this event.  “The borders of our worlds had shifted…The crow had thought he was high up, and when he encountered me looming gigantically through the fog, he had perceived a ghastly and, to a crow mind, unnatural sight… desecrating the very heart of the crow kingdom, a harbinger of the most profound evil a crow mind could conceive of, air-walking men.”


Florida Scrub Jay

Sometimes our world’s do overlap, even to the sense of touch.  I described the Florida Scrub Jay landing on my head in an earlier post, Chasing Rarities in Florida, and we’ve all had the sensation of the friendly, light chickadee feeding from our palms.  There’s the banding operations of the ornithologists and also the charitable cleaning of oil from the feathers of birds harmed by the Gulf oil spill.


Carolina Chickadee


Carolina Wren

We had one other close encounter in our garage several years ago, again a result of the open door.  Dressed for dinner, my wife and weekend guests went to get in the car while I locked the house door.  It was a terrible, hideous scream, this time not from a crow but from my wife.  Everyone slowly backed away as four furry legs and a fang-bared snout and head of a Red Fox peered out from below the car.  It didn’t move and on further investigation we pronounced it dead.  The experience made for good dinnertime conversation with our more urban guests; how did it get there, was it injured, was it chased into the garage, or did it come into the shelter to die of natural causes?  As luck would have it our guest was a man of letters and literary gifts.  This poem by him arrived at our house a few days later.

The End from the Eastern Shore

Is he dead

That sneaky old fox?

What sort of grin

Peeps from his whiskers?

Take care!

He could still give you


Lying down inside the garage,

Grey whiskers sticking out

From the SUV’s bumper,

Was it the bell-tones

Of the chasing dogs

Or just the rigor

Of old age?

We’ll cart him out

In the wheelbarrow

And leave him

To the turkey vultures.

It’s too late now

To turn another


We hope.

Eric Robinson, 2007


The end of Reddy Fox, a childhood friend.


12 thoughts on “Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

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