Press "Enter" to skip to content

A visit from a red-tailed hawk

Several days ago my six-year-old Old English Sheep Dog, Maggie, and I were out playing and walking in the yard. She saw her friends, Bonnie and Bear, coming our way and suddenly I was alone. I headed for the top of the riverbank and spotted what I thought was a brown plastic bag blowing around near the bank.
I headed in that direction to pick it up when it suddenly spread its wings slightly and moved. I’m smart enough to know plastic bags don’t have wings. It was a bird and a rather large one standing some 15” to 18” high. Also rather stoutly built. We introduced ourselves and Henry, or Henrietta I forget which, informed me it was here for a short visit.
This was certainly not our usual backyard visitor along with the wrens, robins, sparrows, doves, cardinals, etc. I decided, if this bird was going to stay Linda was going to have to set out a larger, much larger, bird feeder!

I approached the bird and at about 20 ft. it moved and fluttered atop of some empty barrels my neighbor had stored there for a boat dock. I kept walking in its direction and it made no effort to fly away or tell me to stay away. At one point it jumped two or three barrels in my direction. We were about 8 ft. apart. I’m not up on my bird types but I knew from its curved beak and talons it had to be a hawk or eagle. My guess was hawk.
As I talked to Henry he moved around the edge of the yard and I decided to retreat to the house and my camera. When I returned, with Linda, Henry seemed to be gone. After some visual searching we spotted him sitting atop the fence that encloses our side yard. I took some photos as Henry posed on the fence not six feet from me. Out of respect for the talons I decided not to go any closer even though the bird made no attempt to move away or fly.
I decided it had to be either sick or had a wounded wing. We went into town, got the photos developed, and stopped by for a cup of coffee While there two or three men informed me it was a Red-tailed hawk which is not that unusual here, particularly in the spring and fall, while in transit. It was a new visitor to our property.
Coming back home I searched my book on birds, published by the Brooks Bird Club a few years ago. There, I found it is an “Uncommon summer resident and winter visitant. Numbers of migrants are seen in the spring in March and in the fall in November….In recent decades it has become more numerous during the breeding season.” Now that I think back I guess that is one of the large hawks I have seen flying over the river a few times.
I was also informed it was not a good visitor as it is capable of killing, and eating, cats and small dogs, as well as squirrels, ground squirrels, etc. At 45 pounds I wasn’t concerned about Maggie and her two neighborhood friends are taller and about the same weight.
The next morning we found Henry about twenty feet off the ground in a white-pine tree further down the riverbank. The last couple of days we have seen nothing of our unusual visitor. Guess Linda won’t need a super-sized bird feeder after all. It was a beautiful bird of prey but I guess I’m glad Henry moved on!
Such are the people, places and things that have touched my life in my West Virginia home!
Don Springer is a writer for the Charleston, West Virginia newspapers, but he and his wife often visit in Crosby & Houston. He can be reached at touchlife@