Murderous feather dusters

Three birds of prey hunker down in the light drizzle falling on Bouchaine Vineyards in California’s Napa Valley. Rocky, a beefy Harris hawk with long white-tipped tail feathers gently preens his marbled wings while E.B., a hybrid barbary and saker falcon with a dappled white-and-brown chest, keeps his gaze trained on a row of neatly plaited grapevines. Hootbert’s eyelids flutter sleepily over his big yellow spectacled owl eyes.

~ Shoshi Parks from,

That’s worth the click just for a few close–up shots of some raptors. But also, “Hootbert”.

I once had the distinct pleasure of a too-brief visit to a Falconry school where I was repeatedly astounded. The Harris Hawk I handled was a rescue; It had a damaged toe making it unable to survive on its own. Perched on your arm they are impressive—like, “there is a dinosaur standing on my arm” impressive. It weighs nothing. When it flies in your face it’s like being beat with a feather–duster. It’s gaze and movements are so fast and focused, it seems time must run at a different speed for them. In flight it’s nearly silent, but perched, it makes little sounds rather like a chicken, rather than what you might imagine of a murderous bird of prey. They’re supremely efficient at killing, but basically dumb as a stump otherwise. It was not the least bit interested in harming me, with its razor–sharp beak and talons mere inches from my face and my [I assume] tasty eyes. However, it was 105% interested in murdering the *expletive* out of what we offered it as food. We humans come hard-wired to be afraid of snakes and falling. (I’m only afraid of three kinds of snakes: Little snakes, big snakes, and most sticks.) Harris Hawks are fairly low on the shock-and-awe scale of avian predators. Having met one, I now completely understand why other birds flee in terror.


Golden down

Sitting on the patio one morning, in the cool humidity and calm air of what was going to be a blazing-hot summer day, this single down feather drifted down. It skimmed along the tabletop and disappeared off the edge taunting me to chase it.