Mother Said to Play With My Food

Last October, when I went to retrieve something from the dining room, I caught a fluttering movement outside. Just a few feet from the windows stood an immature Cooper’s Hawk on the ground, facing the windows, beneath the row of towering white pines. In spite of the thick coating of dried needles, I could see it clutched a chipmunk in its talons.

I called to my parents in the loudest whispering I could manage. They had never see a Cooper’s Hawk before. I pointed out how I knew it was an immature: yellow eyes and dark streaks on a white breast.

We thought the Cooper’s would begin to rip apart the chipmunk. But wings drawn and pantaloons in full view, the accipiter hopped. And hopped. And hopped. The chipmunk was flung upward with each hop, grabbed by talons before it could touch the ground, and then released into the air again like a hacky sack. The chipmunk looked very dead. Its eyes were closed and its mouth was agape.

I couldn’t believe I was able to get such a close look at a raptor I didn’t see much. My last exceptional encounter was more than a year before. I observed a young Cooper’s play catch-that-prey with a live squirrel at a park. The squirrel somehow comprehended that the hawk was practicing without an intent to kill, so it went about its nut collection business apathetically, even when talons came pretty close to poking through its skin.

We watched the Cooper’s repeatedly hurl the chipmunk into the air. My mother was  as astounded as I was at how the hawk was so close to us, but she also grimaced and cried out “Awww” and “Poor thing!”. I responded I didn’t understand why she felt sympathy for the chipmunk. It was already dead. And it wasn’t like it was being ripped apart to reveal bloody muscle and innards. One doesn’t usually get a chance to see something like this – a raptor practicing its killing methods on a dummy.

As we talked, the chipmunk suddenly raced away as soon as it came close to touching the ground. The pine needles rustled as it scuttled underneath the bed. The moment the chipmunk escaped, the Cooper’s looked straight ahead for a split second – as if it were a character from “The Office” gaping at the camera – and then it clumsily scrambled after the chipmunk.

They had gone over the hill’s ledge just beyond the pine trees. We could make out that the Cooper’s easily succeeded in recapturing the chipmunk, but after that, the Cooper’s moved a bit further down the hill, and they were completely out of our sight. We left the room.

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