Owls happen to be my all time favorite raptor and we've been fortunate enough around our house to enjoy two spotted and a great horned owl living in the woods near by. They frequently begin "talking" to each other around two to three in the morning. I've become so accustomed to their conversations, they're almost reassuring on those nights I decide to be a "night owl" myself. During one of those late nights while the rest of the house slept, I was making tomato sauce and needed more basil. I strolled out to the herb garden and while I didn't see him nor did I hear him - I felt him. He swooped in like a stealth, just feet above my head and glided over me in the darkness. While I was momentarily startled, I felt more reassurance than fright. My friends were there, out on night watch and all was well in the world. I have since gained a better awareness of them, and can frequently spot them in the late evenings, looking down on us from the trees.
Tonight Cameron was walking our dog and came upon a large, dead bird in the yard. She's the wildlife specialist in the family but it was dark and she couldn't make out what it was, so she she came in for a flashlight. We discovered it was a red-tailed hawk, not long dead, lying next to our vegetable garden. It had no obvious injuries, no blood - almost as if it had just landed there and laid down to die. Over the years, I have found many dead song birds and was saddened to do so - but there is something particularly unsettling about finding such a majestic and beautiful creature, dead in your own back yard. As the daytime counterpart to his nocturnal cousin, it was sad to see this raptor would no longer be soaring the skies.
We put on gloves and brought it to the garage in a cardboard box. Its wingspan was well over three feet and we were amazed by its talons. We reverently discussed how both dinosaur and human-like they were, holding them in our gloved hands. How amazing this animal was - its no wonder they hold a special place in the Native American cultural beliefs. Because they can fly so high, they represent a special connection to the sun and sky. Some legends say the hawk is a visionary and messenger and claim if one lands near you, he is bringing a message from the Great Spirit. According to The Rosemary Tree, it is also "a symbol of illumination and peace. In the Pomo tribe Red Tailed Hawk was a symbol, along with the Great Horned Owl, of protection and a sure defense against enemies both seen and unseen."
After talking with someone from the Raptor Project, we found out that it is not uncommon for them to succumb to West Nile Virus. Since they are a federally protected species, we may also talk to someone at the Missouri Department Conservation. Following that, we plan to give it a proper resting place beneath a tall tree, thinking perhpas of Keats - "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep."