A Study In Scarlet
Such a beautiful bird.
Unless you happen to be lunch.
According to my fellow members of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, a juvenile red-tailed hawk has been causing major carnage over at the Back Bay Fens.
After I saw some Instagram photos (dig me @jimvinfalz33) of him gorging on an unfortunate squirrel, I decided to check things out.
The Back Bay Fens is a part of the Emerald Necklace, that beautiful strand of parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted that wends its way through Boston.
If you have ever gone to a Red Sox baseball game, you have probably driven right past the Fens without realizing it.
Their stadium is called Fenway Park.
But when you take the time to walk, you really appreciate the charms of Olmsted’s creation.
Red-tailed hawks are the birds of prey that most Americans are likely to see. They thrive in urban environments, and have no fear of humans.
Just after the recent blizzard, I saw a red-tail as I walked across Boston Common.
He was perched on a branch, ripping a sparrow to shreds.
Just in time for breakfast.
Some overly sensitive souls might see this as an example of what Tennyson called “Nature red in tooth and claw”.
Or in this case, beak and claw. And tail.
But the hawk defies our human sentimentality.
He is just doing what comes naturally.
My most memorable encounter with a red-tailed hawk happened a few years back during a visit to Mount Auburn Cemetery, where I love to go bird-watching.
As I strolled along with my binoculars, I got the unnerving feeling that I was being watched. I glanced to my right, and, sure enough, there he was.
About 12 feet up. Looking in my direction.
But he wasn’t looking at me. Instead, he was looking to my left.
Eyeing an infant in a stroller. The mother had wandered off for a moment to admire a gravestone.
The red-tail was watching that baby (how else?) like a hawk.
As I studied its stare, I imagined the bird was trying to work out something in that ferocious predator brain.
Trying to answer a question: “Too heavy?”
As you look into those eyes, it is utterly unsurprising that raptors like the red-tail are the closest thing we now have, in evolutionary terms, to this guy.
The red-tail in the Fens was sighted in the Fenway Victory Gardens, a second world war institution to encourage Americans to grow their own food.
It is the oldest such garden in the US.
The practice of victory gardens was also widespread in the UK, where people still cherish working in their “allotments”.
The Back Bay Fens attracts all kinds of critters and varmints, so it is a natural lunch spot for a predator like the red-tail.
I am sure he will enjoy the menu for quite some time.
During my New Year’s stroll today, I didn’t spot the red-tailed hawk.
But I can tell you one thing: I’m sure he spotted me.