Friday, May 03, 2013

More Hawk Talk

Perhaps the oddest thing to me about having an active hawk’s nest in our front yard is that nothing else has changed.

The other morning as we came downstairs to breakfast I opened the front door to check for any overnight developments up in the aerie.  I spotted some jumpy light gray movements on the oak tree branch adjacent to the raptor’s residence, so I kept staring at that spot expecting to see either the changing of the guard between future-mom and future-dad or, even better, one of the two prospective parents bringing takeout brunch to its partner and their offspring.

Instead, it was a squirrel – dancing on the bark about two feet from the site of its possible predator’s penthouse.  Dumb or daring?  Or maybe just lucky. 

 “R”, a fellow member of my garden club, dropped by the other day to see the hawks.  He said that a few years back he had such a nest on his property and that the small animal population in his yard dropped dramatically and quickly.  Our demographic behavior seems to be just the opposite.  The squirrel count remains around five or six – it appears to have held steady around that number since BCE.   And the number of small birds (cardinals, finches, robins, sparrows, titmice, mockingbirds, and even towhees) is at or above our normal number of guests – at least according to Mars and my unofficial census count.

One of the pluses of all this normality is that the air space around our house is once again filled with our usual springtime wall of sound.  A few discordant notes are struck by the occasional scolding squirrel, and rhythmic woodpeckers provide the backbeat.  But mostly the music is provided by mating calls from the male representatives of the above mentioned bird breeds.   (Apparently the cardinal is one of the few varieties where the distaff side joins in duet.)

As a result, if and when the hawks decide to communicate, their dialogue is blended into the dense, layered, background resonance and loses all of its identity – except every so often when I happen to witness one of the raptors coming to or going from its home.

Nonetheless, not having heard or seen any hawk signs for several days – and particularly after watching what I assumed was a daredevil squirrel proving to its buddies that it wasn’t afraid to run up to the haunted house and ring the doorbell – I began to believe that our penthouse pets had, for whatever reason, flown the coop.

But I’ve just come back from my daily dandelion safari, and I am now certain that the hawks are still with us.  I remove these yellow flowered weeds by hand – uprooting them one by one with my snake-tongued weeding tool.  This old-school organic method provides me with a modicum of exercise and a bit of self-satisfaction for my minimal contribution to a chemical-free environment in which coincidentally hawks (and eagles) can once again live normally.

 It also occasionally places me at the base of the oak tree in which the hawks reside, bent over with my back turned to the raptor’s self-proclaimed incubation nook.  I was positioned thusly, in the bright noonday sun, when I felt a large shadow passing over my body, and looked up in time to see one of the pair gliding onto its alternate perching platform in an oak tree across the street.  The short flight was accompanied by a brief burst of hawk chatter, which in turn prompted a similarly worded response from an unseen source in the assemblage of twigs and branches above me.

Un-scratched and unscathed I finished my weed roundup, reported my sighting to Mars, and sat down at the computer to finish my thoughts.

But sitting at the Mac reminded me of something our son asked us the other night when we were talking via Skype.  He wondered if we spoke hawk-talk – not meaning could we converse with them, but rather did we know the proper terminology to use in describing them to others and the etymology thereof. 

We did not.

So here, thanks to the wonders of the inter-web and, are the basic words of hawk talk.

      1) A group of hawks is called a cast, aerie or kettle – even though the only hawk you are likely to find in groups is the Harris and it is found in Arizona and Texas.  A hawk's nest is also called an aerie. It is the spot in which a hawk lays and incubates its eggs besides raising the young ones. The term could also refer to the nests of other birds of prey such as an eagle or a falcon.

      2) A male hawk is normally just called a male.  But the term tercel or tiercel is sometimes applied.

      3) A female hawk is a hen.

      4) A young hawk is called an eyas.  The term "eyas" specifically refers to a young falcon, and even more specifically to one being raised and trained for falconry, but it can also generally apply to young hawks.  Hawks under a year are described as Passage. 

 “Tercel” apparently comes from the Old French, based on Latin tertius ‘third,’ perhaps from the belief that the third egg of a clutch produced a male.  “Aerie” seems pretty clearly to have derived from medieval Latin aeria (aerea, eyria) – “the nest of a bird of prey”.  And, according to my Mac dictionary, “eyas” is from the French niais, based on Latin nidus ‘nest.’ The initial “n” was lost supposedly by an incorrect division of a nyas; as sometimes happens with words such as  adder, apron, and umpire.   

While I don’t doubt the validity of the theory of the “lost n” in general – some of you will remember the Steve Miller Band hit record ‘Fly Like A Neagle” – I do not believe that it applies to little hawk-lings.

Bow-wow theory linguists suggest that the first human languages developed as onomatopoeia, imitations of natural sounds. “Eyas!” is clearly based on the cry of excited new hen and tercel parents when their long incubation vigil is finally over and the hunting season really begins.

Perhaps that sound will even become a part of Mars and my new normal.

No comments: