f is for falcon

Without a net

I catch a falcon

and release it to the sky

hunting god.



One afternoon in late May I heard the distinct sound of fluttering wings outside the gabled end of my house. I approached the nearest window and opened it, prompting flight to a bird that cast a very brief, but large shadow. I went outside and looked up at the peak of the gabled roof, but didn’t see anything. Glancing at the area below I saw a cluster of hard, regurgitated bird pellets on an old stone wall alongside the house, directly under an exposed roof beam. Then, out of the corner of my eye something fluffy and white quivered behind a rock on the ground. Bending down to see what it was I realized I was looking at a baby falcon, also known as a kestrel.

Not knowing what to do, I called a friend of mine well-versed in the care of wild animals and birds. He came over immediately and assessed the situation: the falcon had fallen out of its nest and needed to be put back or it wouldn’t survive. He retrieved my ladder and propped it under the exposed beam of the roof. He climbed up and discovered the nest precariously close to the edge of the beam. Climbing back down the ladder, he put on a pair of cloth gloves, scooped the baby falcon into the palm of his left hand, and holding it close to his chest ascended the ladder once more. He placed the fledgling into the nest and recessed them both further into the triangular niche the exposed beam created. We walked down the road and waited for the mother falcon to appear. Five minutes later she swiftly and effortlessly flew into her nursery, leaving no doubt she’d watched our every move.

I have always been fascinated by birds and their intimate connection with people. When I was a young girl I was particularly drawn to the arcane realm of medieval birds after reading T.H. White’s, The Once and Future King, which was the basis for the stage production and movie, Camelot. In the book, Merlin said that “the way to learn” is “by listening to the experts.” which were the “cast” of hawks in the mews. Equally delighted by the language used to describe groups of birds: murmuration of starlings, parliament of fowls, murder of crows, conspiracy of ravens, quarrel of sparrows and the ever-so-sweet charm of hummingbirds, I couldn’t help but notice how poets like Coleridge used the albatross in his “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, to suggest exile, the solitary life and spiritual longing. Birds offer a natural metaphor for the songs we all yearn to sing.

Every evening at dusk I watched the mother falcon fly in and out of her nest from my hidden vantage point in the house. After 4 weeks the baby falcon had matured enough to test its wings and I was fortunate enough to be home and witness its first flight. Ironically, the ancient Romans tried to predict the future by looking at the flight patterns of birds. These omens were called auspex, derived from the Latin word avis, meaning bird, which eventually became the word auspice, an omen promising a successful outcome. This was, indeed an auspicious moment.

Day by day we are asked to rediscover what it means to be human in this urbanized world we inhabit. Humans, like birds, do not exist in a vacuum – we are all connected and have a responsibility to protect the special places where birds and other engendered species live. Their fragile world is imperiled as is ours. Will the canary in the coal mine sing his last song for us? As Mark Cocker said in his book, Birds and People, “A world without birds would lay waste the human heart.”



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