Buddha With a Sharp Beak

I was puttering around in my kitchen making coffee and getting a laundry basket together when something appeared in my peripheral vision through the sliding glass door that goes out to my deck. Something big. When I turned I saw a bird of prey sitting with its back to me on a thick wire strung between poles over the fence that separates the backyard from the neighbor’s. I was instantly mesmerized. There are plenty of hawks in our area and it’s not uncommon to see them circling high up in the sky, in deceptively lazy turns while no doubt instilling mortal fear in rodents and small birds.

This was no usual hawk. Of course my phone was in a room at the opposite end of the house and I didn’t want to chance the bird flying away while I went to get it. So I just admired it for a good five minutes.

It sat so still on the wire, which usually bobs up and down when being traversed by twitchy squirrels. It was impervious to the first cold day of the season at 36 degrees F with a wind chill in the mid 20s, and the breeze slightly ruffling a few wing feathers.

Then it swiveled its head around to look at me — all the way around past 360 degrees. Such a sharp beak and eyes that see everything, you know, because of the head twisty thing. I wondered if it could see me — I’m assuming yes, but I wasn’t worth stopping to look at for too long. Sometime a flurry of leaves would fall, and the head would turn to the left and then the right following the leaves, in a measured way that let the yard know, the bird was in no particular hurry.

I thought about how it had utterly altered our little urban landscape by its very presence. Where there were usually squirrels running back and forth and small birds flitting from branch to branch and even the occasional outdoor cat, strolling and sniffing carelessly  through the grass, all was still and quiet. What would that be like to have that kind of presence, I wondered? I noted its brownish gray color overall and white spotted wings. Distinct thick stripes, brown and dark brown, marked its tail.

It turned its head again back to me, past me, and then all I could think about was what a  spine this bird’s got. I have a fair amount tension in my back and neck and several times a day, find myself turning my head left and then right to stretch out those muscles. But I’m lucky if I can get my chin in line with my shoulder. I know better than to twist it past that. But this bird was effortlessly looking 370 degrees. I bet it doesn’t have a big knot of stress under its wing blade back there either. Its doing what it was meant to do, perching silently in my view and watching and waiting — not stressing about whether or not any food will show up, or where it’s going to fly next, or thinking about that cheeky squirrel that managed to heckle it before diving into a hole in the tree, safely out of range.

How many times do I achieve that? Maybe if I had that bird’s neck and spine it would be easier. No, I’m no Buddha, with or without a beak. My mind kept returning to my phone in the other room. I backed away in a straight line to the room, never taking my eyes off of the bird, as if I could hold it there with my will. It let me think that while it sat and patrolled the area with its eyes. I got my phone and then took some pictures. At one point it stretched out its left leg without moving any other part of its body or moving the wire.


Finally it dived off the wire into the yard next door where I lost sight of it behind the fence. Get your meal! I thought. I laughed at how fickle I am. I usually would be rooting for the smaller animal aka meal, but having sat with this bird’s stillness and magnificence, my sympathies today were with the hunter.

I sent the picture to my brother and sister-in-law and they dove into their bird books. They thought a sharp-shinned hawk or a Cooper’s hawk. Then I used Google image identity search, which also gave me both. Seems like you need to see the front to be sure. Whichever it was, I appreciate the moment it gave me to slow down and look, and for a little while be a Buddha with a sharp beak.


  1. You have a way with words and I enjoy your writings. Did you see Danielle’s post of her morning visitor to her backyard a few days ago? I’ve had the joy of watching a mother and father hawk teaching their little ones how to fly, dive and soar from our swimming pools in the summertime here in FL. I think of all the birds your folks fed and watched over the years from their kitchen window.

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