Jim Recommends: Hawks

30I have always loved birds of prey: hawks, falcons or eagles. Whether it was as child watching Red Tailed Hawks circle in the thermals over my grandfather’s farm or a cooper’s hawk crashing through the hedges of my backyard trying to chase down it’s next meal, I have been obsessed with the intensity and focus of these birds. A couple of weeks ago I saw a Ospre hovering over the mill pond outside the library looking for fish and it reminded me that it’s been a long time since I’ve done any raptor reading. Here are a couple of them that I’m hoping to get to this summer.

The Hawk’s Way: Encounters with Fierce Beauty by Sy Montgomery

When Sy Montgomery went to spend a day at falconer Nancy Cowan’s farm, home to a dozen magnificent birds of prey, it was the start of a deep love affair. Nancy allowed her to work with Jazz, a feisty, four-year-old, female Harris’s hawk with a wingspan of more than four feet. Not a pet, Jazz was a fierce predator with talons that could pierce skin and bone and yet, she was willing to work with a human to hunt. From the first moment Jazz swept down from a tree and landed on Sy’s leather gloved fist, Sy fell under the hawk’s magnetic spell. Over the next few years, Sy spent more time with these magnificent creatures, getting to know their extraordinary abilities and instincts. They are deeply emotional animals, quick to show anger and frustration, and can hold a grudge for years. But they are also loyal and intensely aware of their surroundings.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

As a child Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer. She learned the arcane terminology and read all the classic books, including T.H. White’s tortured masterpiece, The Goshawk, which describes White’s struggle to train a hawk as a spiritual contest. When her father dies and she is knocked sideways by grief, she becomes obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She buys Mabel … on a Scottish quayside and takes her home to Cambridge. Then she fills the freezer with hawk food and unplugs the phone, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals.