Is that a spotted owl?

Juvenile red-tailed hawkOn Thanksgiving Day, which is also the US Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day, I looked out the bathroom window and saw a large white blob on the top of a tree. Was it snow? But no, none of the other trees had white blobs on them.

So I went across the hall to my office loft to get the upstairs binoculars, and grabbed a note pad. If this was a bird, I was going to do it right and note all the pertinent details! Luckily the bird, it was, was still there when I got back. It was a very large puffy-looking brown bird, with a big white bib. That was the white blob I’d seen with my naked eye.

I noted that it had a pale beak and yellow feet. It had a white spotted pattern all over, chest and sides and possibly back, in a fairly regular pattern. It seemed to have white on the crown, and I noticed brown streaks on its neck, in the white. Wow, I felt like I was getting good at this! And I felt so happy to have this visitation on Monday morning, Thanksgiving Day.

The bird stretched its wings out a little and I noticed it had fat feathered thighs. Then it spread out its wings and tipped off the tree top, slowly soaring down into the valley below. I watched a few minutes to see if it would reappear with some prey in its beak, but it disappeared from view and I didn’t see it again.

So I went with my notes to check the Sibley guide. The owl section quickly showed me that this bird Another red-tailed hawkwas not an owl. Its head was too small, and it didn’t have disc-like eye areas. So turning to the next likely suspect, I discovered my old friend the red-tailed hawk. I made a positive identification. This one was a juvenile, which is why it had the white bib. Aha!

I look forward to seeing it age and change colours! I had a peek in the Audubon guide too, just to see the pix there, and noticed they describe the call as a “high-pitched scream with a hoarse quality, keeeeer.” Whereas the Sibley guide describes the voice as “a rasping whistled scream cheeeeeew falling in pitch and intensity.” I favour the keeeeeer myself, and this is the noise I attempt when talking to the hawk as I run by.

Red-tailed hawk has long been a resident in my valley, and now it is clear that the hawks are carrying on. Fooling around with each other, too! Their presence here is something I am very grateful for. In the early evenings of winter, sometimes the hawk circles above and calls out to me when I go for a run. They have been a faithful companion over the years, when it is quiet and lonely here.

I am thankful.