June 23, 2017
Behind my parents' house, atop a hill in the unmowed field, is a telephone pole where we often see a perching hawk. Bird-watching is a popular pastime in their backyard in the Santa Barbara foothills, where we have enjoyed the bright flashes of yellow or red as a Hooded Oriole or Nutall's Woodpecker swoops through the yard, and marveled over the tiny, fuzzy nests of the Allen's Hummingbirds that favor the potted ficuses under the eaves of the house. At night we hear the "hoo-hu-hu-hoo-hooo" of a Great Horned Owl, in late afternoons, the predatory cries of a Red-tailed Hawk.
On this particular afternoon, a majestic Red-tailed Hawk was making a loud and frequent chirp as it held its ground atop the telephone pole against an angry crow that circled and dove at it from above. By the time I reached the base of this pole, the crow's work was done and the hawk was aloft with its mate, gliding in slow, widening circles above the hills.
On a sunny afternoon with all of that natural wilderness at hand, were my Los Angeles children climbing trees and cavorting in the fields? No, they were in a dark, curtained room watching an absurd cartoon about the Ice Age. Under mild duress, one seven year old, Julio, was convinced to join his parents for a quick exploration.
Back at the telephone pole we examined the broad, clear circle where wild oat grass and fennel had been mowed, and there in the gravel we made a great discovery. Under the frequent perch of that Red-tailed Hawk was a rodent bone-yard. Everywhere we looked and stepped were the skeletal remains of dozens of hawk meals, the dried bones of pocket gophers, voles, lizards and mice. Searching through the remains, we found tiny jaws full of teeth, cracked femurs, miniature toe bones. My son excitedly gathered a handful of bones, examining them carefully. He professed his admiration of the hawk and the bones, stepped cautiously over the remains, and knelt to inspect tiny patches of dried fur and digested insects while the paired hawks soared in the distance.
When we returned to the house, bones in hand, his grandfather asked him about the expedition. Julio brightly told of our adventure, ending his story with an enthusiastic, "That was so gross... and so FASCINATING!"