Thursday, August 21, 2008

Death on wings

I saw death this morning...just a glimpse, through my kitchen window.

Picture me in my bathrobe (light blue cotton), around 8 a.m., passing through the kitchen on my way back to the sofa and my laptop. I hear three sharp cries of distress through the slightly open kitchen window. I turn and see a flash of hawk ascending from dense shrubs bordering my front yard. It is rising skyward with something clutched in its sharp talons. Then it is gone.

I figure it must have nabbed a quail.

It's been a tough month for the neighborhood coveys of California Quail. Just last week, I was sitting on my sofa when I heard a clamor of quail in the back yard, followed by a mysterious thud. I got up to investigate.

As I stepped out onto the back deck, I was startled to see a hawk take off from the deck railing. At the same time, several quail burst out of their hiding places and buzzed off to find better cover. Another dull thud. I looked around, puzzled, then realized what that sound probably was -- panicked quail smacking into the picture windows overlooking our backyard.

I walked over to the windows and looked under the shrubs that border the foundation. Sure enough, a quail lay on the ground. Dull gray-brown feathers and a small plume -- a female. It made no move to get away, so I reached down and picked it up. Its head lolled, its eyes closed, its feet gave a little twitch. Then it was still.

I set it back on the ground and looked a little further. Yes, there was another one, a juvenile, lying on the ground behind the shrub. Clearly stunned, but still alive. When it saw me, it took off, a short dash followed by an unsteady hop of a flight that took it back onto the deck. I watched and waited quietly, not wanting to scare it off again. It sat on the bench for several minutes before flying up into one of the trees beside our house.

I picked up the dead quail again, and carried it over to the deck. I laid it gently atop the railing, a kind of peace offering to hawks, before going inside. The next morning, it was still there. Maybe hawks can't see quail unless they're in motion, or maybe they don't like them already dead.

The following morning, I noticed it was gone. I hoped perhaps a hawk had carried it off, but no. When I looked, I saw it had been blown off the railing onto the ground. The ants had already found it. In a few days, nothing would be left but bones and feathers.

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