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A chance run-in with a king of the sky

Friday, August 6, 2021
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I’ve always had a soft spot for birds of prey.

From animal books for children to nature documentaries, the winged rulers of the sky captured my imagination from a young age.

Why peck around for leftover groceries in a Walmart parking lot like some common grackle when you could track down live prey from on high?

Did you know peregrine falcons have been clocked at speeds just shy of 250 miles per hour when in a dive?

Let me say that again: 250 miles per hour. That’s the fastest any living thing on this planet can travel under its own power. And that’s my all-time favorite animal fact.

The notion of a peregrine falcon plummeting from thousands of feet in the air at that speed to absolutely pulverize a pigeon or some other hapless plebeian bird — unlike hawks, peregrines mainly feed on other fowl — is just about the coolest thing I can picture.

I once got to see one in action, though not quite in the wild.

My high school class was on a field trip to a Renaissance festival in Texas. The shenanigans that ensued at that festival are more fit for another tale, but my favorite part was the falconry exhibition.

A troop of professional falconers showed off their glorious winged partners on stage, mainly red-tailed hawks. Seeing them take to the sky and capture lures on command was impressive, but the true showstopper was the peregrine falcon they saved for last.

Watching that absolute force of nature climb to great heights and then rocket to earth to catch bait thrown into the air was astounding. Its combination of grace and efficiency was truly a testament to an intelligent Creator.

Despite that memorable experience, I never had a truly personal experience with a bird of prey.

Until this past weekend, that is.

My wife and I took her car to spend Saturday afternoon with some friends in Shreveport. When we came back, I turned into our fairly long, narrow driveway and immediately stopped the car.

At the end of the driveway, looking for all the world like he owned the place, a hawk was sitting on my car.

Now, this wasn’t the famed 250-mph peregrine falcon. But he was a breathtaking sight nonetheless.

I gasped and instinctively turned the car off, slowly creaking open my door and leaving Cydney somewhat nonplussed.

I’ve seen plenty of hawks around the rural neighborhood outside of Lake Charles where I grew up. But they were mostly taking flight from telephone poles as we drove past, not this up close and personal.

He was huge. Tall and wide with white, puffed-out breast plumage.

I only got a grainy photo on my phone from just outside the car door, so as I tried later to compare it to photos of different hawks in our region online, I couldn’t be sure which kind he was. But my best guess is a white-tailed hawk.

I tried to approach as silently as I could, but after just two or three steps he flew off, dropping the uneaten remains of a squirrel he had obviously killed before our arrival.

Judging by the, ahem, spatter left behind on my vehicle, the hawk had likely plucked his prey off the ground somewhere nearby and then perched on my car to kill and eat it.

It’s also possible the squirrel was already on my car and he attacked it right there, which would have honestly been even cooler.

In either case, what wasn’t nearly as cool was cleaning up the viscera left behind. I learned a lot about squirrel anatomy that I didn’t care to know.

But my encounter with such a majestic beast was well worth the mess. As much of a fan as I am of things like books and video games, such true, pure beauty can only be found in nature.

The neighborhood hawk is always welcome to a meal at my expense.

Caleb Daniel is the Ruston Daily Leader’s Digital News Editor. Caleb is a Louisiana Tech University graduate who covers the Lincoln Parish Police Jury and schools for the Ruston Leader.