Winged Freebooters - from Harper's
The great goshawk, a bird in a coat of blackish-brown covered with
blotches of black and reddish-white, is a terrible enemy to wild
rabbits, hares, and squirrels, and to all the small feathered
inhabitants of field and forest. It is about two feet long, and although
it is not a bird of very rapid flight, its cunning and strength are such
that its prey rarely escapes. Should the terrified hare hide itself in
some thicket, the goshawk patiently perches on an elevated branch near
at hand, where it will wait hours, motionless, until the poor hare,
thinking its enemy departed, ventures from its retreat, when in an
instant it is swooped down upon, and struck dying to the ground.
Goshawks are found in the Middle and Western States during the autumn
and winter. In the summer they go far to the northward to rear their
young. They build a large nest of twigs and coarse grasses on some lofty
branch of a tree, and lay three or four eggs of dull bluish-white
slightly spotted with reddish-brown.
These savage birds are very common in Maine, where they make great havoc
among the flocks of wild-ducks and Canada grouse, and will even, when
driven by hunger, venture an attack on the fowls of the farm-yard. Its
sharp eye always gleaming and on the alert, the goshawk sweeps over
fields and woods, changing its course in an instant by a slight movement
of its rudder-like tail whenever any desired prey is sighted. It is the
most restless of birds, and is almost constantly on the wing, seldom
alighting except for breakfast and dinner.
Audubon relates a curious instance of sagacity in a goshawk, which he
himself witnessed. A large flock of blackbirds flying over a pond were
pursued by one of these birds, which, dashing into the flock, seized one
after the other of the poor little victims, apparently squeezing each
one with its powerful talons, and then allowing it to drop on the
surface of the water. Five or six had been captured before the fleeing
blackbirds gained the shelter of a thick forest. The goshawk then swept
leisurely back, and with graceful curves descended to the pond and
collected its victims, taking the dead birds one by one and carrying
them away as if laying up a store for its evening meal.
A DASH FOR LIFE.
Instances have been known where this bird has itself fallen a victim to
its own designs. Dead goshawks have been found with their talons
hopelessly entangled in thorn and furze bushes, upon which they had
pounced with the object of seizing some little rabbit or squirrel which
had sought shelter beneath the undergrowth. A hunter once witnessed such
an occurrence, the rabbit scampering away in safety across the field,
while the great bird remained entangled in the bush. The hunter forbore
to shoot at the little rabbit which had made so fortunate an escape, and
killed the wicked bird of prey instead.
Goshawks are found in nearly every portion of Europe, and have sometimes
been trained to assist in hunting; but as they are more ferocious than
the falcon, they are less easily controlled, and are always on the watch
to regain their liberty.
A smaller variety of the great hawk family, but one spreading equal
terror among small birds, is the sparrow-hawk—a bold, provoking bird,
with dark brown back and wings, and breast of rusty brown or
grayish-white crossed by narrow bars of a darker tint. The sparrow-hawk
feeds mostly upon small birds, but it will also catch moles, field-mice,
and even grasshoppers. It flies low, skimming along but a few feet from
the ground, its sharp little eyes always on the watch for prey.
When tamed, the sparrow-hawk becomes affectionate toward its owner, but
will rarely accept civilities from any other person. One of these birds,
which had been tamed by a lady, was accustomed to perch on the shoulder
of its mistress, and eat from her hand. It was intensely jealous, and
would fly savagely at any one to whom its mistress showed the least
favor. This particular pet proved as troublesome as a thieving cat, for
was any fine fat chicken or partridge left lying on the kitchen table,
if the cook's back was turned for a moment, the prize was either mangled
or borne away to a hiding-place by the mischievous bird.
The sparrow-hawk is not a nest-builder, but will usurp the nest of the
crow or some other large bird. If a deserted nest can be found, the
sparrow-hawk will immediately take possession; but if no such presents
itself, this bad-hearted, quarrelsome bird does not hesitate to depose
the rightful owner, and proceed to occupy a home to which it has neither
right nor title.
The sparrow-hawk, the malicious hen-hawk, and cruel pigeon-hawk, are
very common throughout the United States and Europe.