dispatch from the back yard

Quiet Christmas morning turns all aflutter

A Cooper's hawk doesn't usually sit still for long.
A Cooper's hawk doesn't usually sit still for long. (Bob Brown - AP)
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Sunday, December 27, 2009

A surprise Christmas visitor makes for an interesting day.

On Christmas morning, the sun was shining as I sleepwalked into the kitchen to make coffee. I glanced out the window, and what should my wondering eyes behold but a hawk sitting on the grass in our yard. I yelled for my husband, an avid birder (that's a birdwatcher), who came running in from the bedroom where he had been about to take a shower. And I do mean "about" -- picture him peering through the kitchen window wearing nothing but a pair of expensive binoculars.

"It's a Cooper's hawk!" he cried.

It is highly unusual for a hawk to sit in the grass for any length of time -- they're fast fliers and hard-chargers -- and our hawk just sat and sat. The husband donned his gray sweats and got within two feet of the wild and treacherous creature. The bird managed only a feeble wing flutter and head shake. We knew it was in trouble.

Finding a bird rescue organization on Christmas morning is a challenge. We started with Animal Control (not there), the police (not their jurisdiction), Natural Resources (which gave us some phone numbers to try). For four hours, I was on the Internet and my husband on the phone, trying to locate someone who would help our apparently injured bird.

Now, Christmas at our house is traditionally a gift-opening bash and brunch with whatever children, their spouses and children's children might be in the area. This year, no one was coming to see us, and I was a tad bereft as I started the day. And having my husband wrapped up (so to speak) in this wild thing in our yard didn't help. As the morning wore on, the darned bird was getting a heck of a lot more attention than I was. Finally, around noon, the helpmate agreed that we could open our gifts. But first, ladies and gentlemen, we must move the hawk into our garage, the better to protect him and our neighbors' dogs.

In case you didn't know, here's how to move a hawk from your yard to your garage:

You find a box. Then you find a towel or blanket with which to cover the bird. Then you must argue about whether to use a dirty car towel or a pristine one. Then the husband, with the gleam of virtuous purpose in his eyes, must march the towel over to the bird, throw it over said bird, then pick up and carry the creature to the box being held open by the nervous and skeptical wife.

So at last, while the bird rested comfortably on a clean white towel in a cardboard box held closed by masking tape in our garage, we opened our gifts, knowing all the while that there was a distinct possibility that a Cooper's hawk might be flying around our garage and pooping on my Volvo.

Gifts done, our attention veered back to Claus, our Christmas bird (yes, we named him). About one o'clock, a generous rescuer in north-central Maryland eventually found us an equally generous person in our area who could take him. The 10-minute ride was interesting, with me driving very slowly while my husband held the box of hawk.

Once we arrived at the animal sanctuary, with its field full of unwanted emu and peacocks, Sandi the sainted rescue lady took one look at Claus and declared that yes, he had probably suffered a concussion after "boinking" himself on our house. He would likely be okay after a couple of days of rest in a protected environment.

Christmas gifts do come in unexpected packages. On a Christmas morning when we expected to be alone, we had a visitor after all. He didn't come bearing brightly wrapped gifts that we likely didn't need, but he brought us something else. The husband got to pick up a hawk (too cool) and take it to a safe place where it can recover to soar and attack smaller birds yet another day. I got to see my husband nude with binoculars.

-- Lynn Hollway, Crofton

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