The Red-tailed Hawk and the Toddler Fence


I’m a bird lover. I feed the song birds and the finches. I have an ongoing water supply in the form of a fountain in my back yard. I’ve planted native plants for the hummingbirds. When I hike, I am thrilled to find a hawk feather to add to my hat.

Twenty-odd years ago, when my youngest was toddling around the big yard we had in Bryan Ranch, a subdivision on the slopes of Mt. Diablo, I realized that the steep hill in our side yard would be a danger to her.  The hill was covered with Chinese Pistache trees that were beautiful when they blossomed but which had sharp branches with thorny protrusions. The steps down the hill were made of railroad ties, and at the bottom was dirt in front of a wire fence.

I did not want my baby falling down that hill. So like any diligent mother, I went out and bought a roll of wire fencing and a bunch of metal stakes. I spent one long day building that fifty-foot fence while the kids played nearby.

A few weeks later, I came out to the backyard and found a red-tailed hawk hanging at the top of the wire fence. What had happened? Had it been killed by a bigger hawk? An owl, perhaps? Upon closer inspection I saw that the hawk didn’t have any marks on it, no blood.  Then I realized what had happened. The low-flying hawk hadn’t seen the fence at dusk or dawn and had flown under the trees and right into it. The fence had broken its neck.

I should’ve hung strips of pink cloth along the top of the fence.  I don’t like to kill spiders. Once I raked a mouse nest out from under a backyard bush and screamed at the bald baby mice that I had just exposed to danger.

My stomach churned at the thought that my doing had killed a beautiful wild bird.  I got a shoe box and went back outside. I put on a pair of garden gloves and carefully removed the hawk from the fence before a turkey vulture would’ve come along to eat it.  I put it in the shoe box and then called Lindsay Wildlife museum to see if they’d like it for taxidermy. They said they might.

I loaded up my three kids into the mini-van and drove to the museum in Walnut Creek. I gave a docent the shoe box and also let my kids take a look at the bird while she told us about it. It was a young juvenile, smaller than a full-grown adult.

That was the least I could do for causing the death of a beautiful hawk.  How many times had that bird flown under trees with no consequence?  I’d sacrificed the bird to save injury to my daughter.

Couldda Wouldda Didda

When wildlife and humans interface with one another, it is often, but not always, the wildlife that loses.

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