Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Pepper and the Hawk


Print by Barbara Keith, from

Pepper and I were puttering around the yard late one afternoon when we found the lifeless body of a juvenile red tailed hawk at the base of a pine tree.  High above, in that very tree, was the nest.  I was able to convince Pep to follow me back to the house, leaving the hawk where it lay.  My husband was dispatched to take care of it.  

Pep meanwhile had questions.  “What happened to the hawk?  And why wouldn’t you let me investigate?  I was very curious about it.”

“Yes, Pep, I know you were curious.  But things might have gotten messy,” I replied.  “We will figure it out.”  

My husband and I considered the facts when he returned.  The bird’s neck appeared to be broken.  Had some predator gotten to it – but then abandoned its prey?  Had it fallen from the nest before it could fly?  The bird was no tiny fledgling.  It appeared to be more of a teenager.  Had its parents rejected it for some reason?  I couldn’t find anything online about hawk parents breaking the necks of their own young, no matter how aggravating they might be.  

“It’s a terrible mystery,” I had to tell Pep, neither of us satisfied.

The next day, I saw something that gave me more to think about.

When Pep and I went out for our afternoon ramble, we were greeted by a loud shrieking of blue jays. They weren’t shrieking at us.  Instead, two of them were harassing another juvenile red tailed hawk in the tree with the nest!  The hawk perched unsteadily on a branch near its nest.  The jays swooped and swiped at its head and back, and the hawk did nothing.  It was already larger than the jays, but it appeared to have no idea how to defend itself or get away.  I shouted and clapped to try to distract the jays, but they could have cared less.  There was nothing to do except watch the jays assault the young hawk.  Where were the parents?!  I finally got so upset that I came back inside.  Pep followed.

“What’s wrong?” Pep asked kindly.

“I kind-of hate nature,” I replied sadly.

“I would remind you that a hawk is basically death on wings,” she suggested.  “It is possible that your sympathies are misplaced.”

*     *    *


“Sleep is pain’s easiest salve, and doth fulfill/All offices of death, except to kill.” -John Donne



  1. “Death on wings.” That Pepper has a clever way with words. I might have to use that.

  2. I kind of love your perspective on nature though. Thanks for sharing this intimate moment.

  3. We found a juvenile owl in ill health in our yard several years ago. We called the TN Wildlife Extension office as we did not wish to get too close to those talons! They sent an officer out to take it to a local vet to try to save it (unsuccessful, unfortunately). We were told that some birds of prey do not learn how to hunt well and cannot sufficiently feed themselves. Those smaller birds sure can be aggressive, though, in protecting their young.

    • We were recently told that as well by a falconer at Sea Island! He had a Harris Hawk with him and said that only the fittest of the fit survive among birds of prey in the wild. If they miss more than a meal or two, it’s a death sentence: they become too weak to hunt effectively. I’m glad to know about the TN Wildlife Extension office! I’ve never had reason to call. The blue jays might take over the world one day. xo

  4. Check out Robert Penn Warren’s “Red-Tail Hawk and Pyre of Youth” from Now and Then (1977).

  5. I have watched blue jays bully other birds in my yard too. Who made them boss bird?

  6. The Hawk In the Rain

    I drown in the drumming ploughland, I drag up
    Heel after heel from the swallowing of the earth’s mouth,
    From clay that clutches my each step to the ankle
    With the habit of the dogged grave, but the hawk

    Effortlessly at height hangs his still eye.
    His wings hold all creation in a weightless quiet,
    Steady as a hallucination in the streaming air.
    While banging wind kills these stubborn hedges,

    Thumbs my eyes, throws my breath, tackles my heart,
    And rain hacks my head to the bone, the hawk hangs,
    The diamond point of will that polestars
    The sea drowner’s endurance: And I,

    Bloodily grabbed dazed last-moment-counting
    Morsel in the earth’s mouth, strain to the master-
    Fulcrum of violence where the hawk hangs still.
    That maybe in his own time meets the weather

    Coming the wrong way, suffers the air, hurled upside-down,
    Fall from his eye, the ponderous shires crash on him,
    The horizon trap him; the round angelic eye
    Smashed, mix his heart’s blood with the mire of the land.

    Ted Hughes

  7. Another wonderful story with much insight! Thank you for sharing!

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