by Melissa kay Bishop
When I was a volunteer at The Foundation for the Preservation of American Bald Eagles, I worked with all kinds of raptors including red-tailed hawks. Although these birds are named for their tails, like all birds of prey, they love to show off and take great care of their wings. Giving the raptors a shower was one of my duties that I would have paid someone to let me do.
On several iron-ring perches sticking out of the lawn, an owl, a vulture, a kestrel, a falcon, and a hawk or two would be carefully placed. Although these foundation residents were tethered to the rings, none of them had an interest in leaving. Instead, they sat with pride and tried to mask their excitement. Turning a hose on one of the birds would cause her to spread out one great wing allowing me shoot water under it then she would stretch out the other. Without taking her eyes off me, she would turn around to make sure I didn't forget her back. Each bird got their turn and then again. It was a summer time treat of running through the sprinkler with the purpose of keeping their greatest tools preened and in the best condition.
February and March is the time of year to witness these tools in action. As you are going along a highway, pay attention to the sky (if you are the passenger of course) for a display of the red-tailed hawk's winged prowess. You will see two or more of these birds (I have seen up to five) circling and soaring high into the blue. Diving and grazing each other, they hook talons and fall nearly to the earth before one of them lets go. The purpose of this game of chicken is to attract the opposite sex by proving what their wings and talons can do.
Red-tails used to be called the "Chicken Hawk" and not for this game, but because farmers mistakenly believed they were after their chickens. Often, they were shot for actually hanging around to take care of any rat or snake problem the trigger-happy landowner might be having.