New story in Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine:
When we spotted the hawk, it was sitting on a light pole over the freeway, not far from a Target and a Home Depot. The bird was peering down into the grass looking for prey. “Hunting hard” as falconers like to say.
It was an urban bird, used to the sounds of cars and airplanes. It didn’t seem very wild, here on Highway 77, but it was exactly the kind of place red-tailed hawks like to hunt: big perch, wide open grass, and lots of rodents running around.
By the time we saw the hawk, we had been driving around in his old Honda Pilot SUV for almost four hours. Jason had recently become an apprentice falconer, and he was trying to catch his first bird. According to state law, it had to be a “passage” hawk under a year old, its baby brown tail feathers not yet turned red.
“Was that a juvi?” Jason asked.
I had no idea. We were driving at 70 mph and I couldn’t tell the difference. Jason was wearing his usual sunglasses, but he could still see better than me.
“I think I saw a little red in its tail,” he said. “So, it might be a hag.”
This was not the first time we’d had this discussion. “Hag,” I’d learned, is short for “haggard,” meaning an adult bird. We’d probably seen 20 hags on this gray fall day, driving around Shakopee, past Valleyfair, circling an Amazon fulfillment center. But we hadn’t seen a single juvenile that stuck around.
Since getting his license from the DNR a month prior, Jason had spent every weekend, all weekend, and some weekdays, like this: driving around looking for a hawk. Hundreds of hours. Hundreds of miles.
“I’m going to circle around for another look,” he said.