Troublingly Friendly

Posted in Blog

Do you ever get the feeling that something is watching you – and then find out that you are right?

On a late February day I was planting trees in the open meadow of the Timber Forest.  Driving the shovel’s blade in to the soil, something gave me pause as I reach into the bag on my left hip for the next seedling.  Looking up, I was surprised to see a red tailed hawk sitting on a limb of an alder, not twenty feet away, watching me closely.  As we stared across the gap between us for several minutes, I thought to myself “this is not right”.


red tail timber

As I continued to plant, the hawk followed me – moving from tree to tree.  At times we were less than ten feet apart.

An hour later, I visited with a team of 7th grade scientists from Catlin Gabel School who were monitoring the creek.  They recounted how a hawk – apparently THE hawk – approached close to them.  As they watched, it threw itself to the forest floor and flopped around with wings outstretched.  It appeared that it might have been trying to capture something to eat, but no creature was visible on the ground.

red tail

These encounters reminded me that this hawk as been uncommonly friendly and comfortable with us two leggeds for several months.  The photo above was taken in early December when the hawk made a close approach to coho watchers.

What might explain this?  Could it be a hawk who once lived with people and was released, or escaped, to the wild?  We looked for leather jesses on the legs, but saw none.  Could the hawk be sick in some way.   Who knows?


Additional Update March 7, 2014:

Because other know much more about these things than we do, we made contact with knowledgeable friends at the Audubon Society of Portland and here is what we learned:


From Steve Engel, naturalist and Director of Adult Education –

“I’d be interested in what Deb and Char think and I’m cc’ing Carole Hallett, a raptor biologist with tons of experience with these birds.

 Here’s my 2 cents, for what it’s worth:

It sounds like a bird that has possibly been acclimated to humans somehow.  Odd that it is an adult and so also has fine abilities to support itself and has not co-horted with humans so much that some inevitable fate related to such behavior has befallen it (traffic strike, entanglement, shot). 

 The other possibility is that it is a perfectly healthy and wild bird exhibiting strange individual behavior.   

Kind of like Lily Tomlin at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk.

 It doesn’t strike me as any behavior related to territorial defense or nest protection.”

From Carole Hallett, raptor biologist –

“HI everyone, I tend to agree with Steve’s assessment and recommendations.  The bird is an adult and it has been exhibiting the behavior for a few months so it seems to have the skills to survive on its own.  It may have been a falconry bird at one time or it may have learned on its own to associate people with food.  When we walk through an area or turn over soil we sometimes incidentally uncover or create movement of prey items.  Raptors key in on movement.  


If it persists in the area and begins to exhibit behavior suggesting weakness or disease I’m happy to come out and have a look. Otherwise I’d say document it and leave it be.  My two cents.”