Story | Trapped Hawk | Animal Communication

How To Liberate a Trapped Hawk

Bonnie Kreitler
ILLUMINATION-Curated
7 min readApr 29, 2022

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To help a hawk, you need to think like a hawk. And you may get help in return.

Photo Credit Robert Kreitler

I heard the late afternoon thud as I sat in my upstairs office. But I ignored it. It happened routinely every spring. “Another bird just brained itself,” I thought.

Without fail, birds slam into the high windows on one side of our home every spring. When I asked our local Audubon experts why they did this, the birders pointed out it was nesting season. Territorial birds saw their reflections in the glass and flew into it, defending their nest sites from an “intruder.”

When we first moved here, I’d rush outside only to find that either the bird had already recovered and flown, was stunned and just needed a little time to gather its wits, or had broken its neck and required a quiet birdie burial.

Trapped!

This time, scrambling and thrashing noises followed the much louder than usual thud I’d heard. I went to investigate.

But first, let me set the scene.

Our home perches on the side of a hill. You enter on the west side at ground level. Inside, a high ceiling creates space for large east-facing windows. The hillside falls away abruptly on that side. A deck sits at ground level on the west side and then flies out above the hillside to the east.

A screened octagonal gazebo perches some 18 feet in the air on the east side. We enjoy eating outdoors high up in our little treehouse.

I found this thud was different. This time, a red-tailed hawk had blown through a screen on the gazebo’s north side, leaving a gaping hole.

My beekeeper husband stacks honey supers (wooden boxes where bees store their hive’s honey) in the gazebo for winter storage.

Author Photo

The hawk now stood on one stack, gathering its wits.

Taking stock of its options, the bird started hopping from stack to stack.

It hopped to the picnic table, then to a bench, knocking a candle hurricane over and scattering cushions.

The hawk returned to the honey supers. Periodically it would grip the screen above the boxes with its talons and beat its wings against the screen in futile attempts to escape.

I retreated to think.

Bird Intrusions

Smaller birds got themselves into the same fix from time to time if the gazebo door was open. They, too, clung to the screens and beat their wings against them, trying to find a way out.

I learned I could “fly” an upside-down broom around the edge of the ceiling, gently herding the little birds toward the open door and freedom.

But one look at the hawk’s hooked beak and fearsome talons convinced me I wouldn’t try the flying broom trick this time.

Seeing me and our dog watching through the kitchen door stressed the hawk. The bird assumed a defensive posture. It fluffed its feathers, opened its beak, and held its wings out to its sides to make itself look fierce. (It really didn’t need to do that. It had my respect at beak and talons.)

What to do? I could at least open the gazebo door and hope it saw a way out. I inched along the deck railing, opened the door, and quickly retreated.

“You have two escape possibilities now,” I pointed out to the hawk. “You can get out through the hole you already made in the screen, or you can get out the door.”

The hawk just glared. It kept hopping back and forth across the super stacks and assaulting the screens.

My husband arrived home at dusk, and we considered other options. He bravely approached the gazebo and pulled the damaged screen from its wooden frame as the bird resumed its defensive posture.

Now there’s a 4–1/2 foot wide and tall opening for the hawk to escape.

But it’s dark. We hoped the hawk would see this new possibility in the morning and fly to freedom.

I tried mental telepathy, picturing the possible escape routes in my mind. “Hop to the table, hop to the screen opening, and fly away,” I said. “Or hop down the table, hop to the floor, and hop out the door.”

My husband noticed that, with the lights on inside, our movements in the house upset the hawk again. He hung a sheet over the door, and the hawk calmed down.

I couldn’t resist pulling the sheet aside just a bit to look at the hawk. The bird just glared.

I glared back. “Stupid bird,” I thought. “We’re trying to help you escape. Can’t you see the way out?”

Maybe the hawk would figure things out overnight. Perhaps the situation might look different at dawn. If the hawk was still there, we’d search out a wildlife specialist unafraid of beaks and talons to rescue it.

The Numbers Don’t Add Up

I jumped on my computer and confirmed this was a red-tailed hawk.

But now I’m the one feeling stupid.

I did the math. The escape routes we’d offered were not going to work.

The gazebo is 10 feet across. The door is 32 inches wide. The hole in the screen was a triangle about a foot and a half on each side. The opening is roughly 4–1/2 feet square with the screen pulled off.

Red-tailed hawks are enormous birds. They measure up to 25 inches tall. Their wingspan is 4 to 6 feet.

They’re not flyweights, either. They can weigh 3–1/2 to 4 pounds. To put that in perspective, one hawk weighs about the same as a flock of 30 wrens.

I wondered if this large hawk was one of a pair I’d noticed a week or two earlier.

They were flying from tree to tree along the edge of the woods, squabbling on every landing. I could almost hear their conversation:

“No, no, no. This one is too close to the road.”

“You think I’m going to build a nest in this awful tree?”

“The morning sun will be in my eyes. Not here.”

The hawk in the gazebo had clearly not been looking for a nesting site. More likely, the bird was chasing a potential meal and neglected to watch where it was headed.

But since female hawks are larger than males — and this was a large hawk — I started referring to the bird as “she.”

The Light Dawns

She was still there in the morning. But she was calmer now. She no longer minded if I pulled the sheet aside and watched her through the door.

When she noticed me, she began a curious ritual. She hopped from one stack of supers to another. Then she stopped and stared at me.

I could almost hear her saying, “Did you see me do that? Look, I’ll do it again.” Hops, stares. Hops, stares. Hops, stares. Not frantically this time. Very deliberately.

Curious. Was she trying to tell me something?

Then it dawned on me.

“Bob! I think I see the problem,” I called. “She’s too heavy to hop very far.”

I realized that the hop from the table to the floor was too long. Even if the hawk reached the floor successfully, she would feel vulnerable. It would take several more hops to get through the door.

The opening in the gazebo frame was not a good option, either. The hop from the table to that opening was over 4-feet. Much farther than the few inches she had just demonstrated. And too narrow for a hawk with outstretched wings to fly through.

“How can we build her a bridge?” I asked my husband.

He thought and quickly retrieved some plywood scraps from the garage. He quietly approached the gazebo, and slid the boards through the open frame to a bench. There was no defensive posturing this time.

The hawk assessed the change in her environment. She stopped hopping across the honey supers. She looked at me, looked at the boards. She looked at me, looked at the boards. She looked at me again.

And a thought flashed through my mind:

To escape from where you feel trapped to where you want to be, look for something that bridges the distance between them. Watch for it. Then the choice of escaping or staying helpless is up to you.

The hawk hopped to the table. She hopped to the boards. She hopped up the boards to the edge of the frame. She leaned out, and with one powerful downbeat of outspread wings, she was free.

Author Photo

She left nothing but droppings and a torn screen behind as reminders of her visit.

I wondered if she was one of the squabbling pair I’d seen. I hope she’s nesting nearby. Maybe she’ll bring her fledglings by to say hello.

Messages From Nature?

Some people believe that wild animals cross our paths purposefully to get our attention. Sarah Bamford Seidelmann writes in The Book of Beasties that hawks appear to encourage us to harness the beneficial currents that invisibly surround us so we can soar with ease. According to Steven D. Farmer, author of Animal Spirit Guides, a hawk is a sign that it’s time to study and observe a situation, then take quick action.

Had the hawk arrived by accident? Or did she come to bring a message to me to share with you?

Where are you?

Where would you like to be?

What resources do you need to bridge the gap between those points?

Pay close attention to things that show up in your life and use them to build your bridge.

Create wind beneath your wings and soar like a hawk.

Hawk data from websites: All About Birds and Beauty of Birds

© Bonnie Kreitler 2022. All rights reserved.

Writer Bonnie Kreitler creates content to help fellow animal addicts build rewarding relationships with the critters in their lives. See more at www.ramblingdog.com

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Bonnie Kreitler
ILLUMINATION-Curated

Author, journalist, animal addict, observer, and explorer creating connections between our critter relationships and life lessons at ramblingdog.com