By Susu Jeffrey
(Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota) She is three months old, with golden irises in her unblinking eyes. This female sharp-shinned hawk—“my” sharpshin, but I know better—is on her way to wintering in Central America. She was born in northern Minnesota or southern Canada, was just netted and banded and will be released in minutes.
It’s Tuesday and Equinox eve, I just drove 165-miles through early fall color. Lake Superior is three shades of blue and I can feel a heart beat in my right hand holding the warm, three-month-old, female, golden-eyed, sharp-shinned hawk.
She eats song birds (sparrows, robins, chickadees, even blue jays) and occasionally dragonflies a staffer says. She catches her prey in a lightning strike with her talons, then perches somewhere to pluck the feathers and eat.
There are three staff members, plus a bird banding team, plus four volunteers, and an hourly count of passing raptors. She is one of nine sharpshins released today—so far.
She is soft, warm, a deep chocolate color. Dark, I’m told. “Unusual.” She is a beauty. I have never held a bird in my hand. She is about 14 inches long, my hand encloses her legs and lower body.
Hold her snug, I’m instructed. She is looking around, facing Lake Superior. She has a map in her brain which she inherited from her ancestors. I am told to stand like the Statue of Liberty and give her a little up-thrust on the count of three.
She’s free! Beak toward the south, she heads straight out without a dip. Northern Minnesota to say, Honduras—is about 3,500-miles. She weighs 5-7 ounces and might expect a 13-year lifespan. I will be notified as her “adopted” contact ($20 donation) if she is found and her band number reported.
Hawk Ridge is owned by the City of Duluth and will be staffed, daily, until the end of October. I did, of course, get a little bit lost but Hawk Ridge is just north of the City of Duluth, off Glenwood, on Skyline Parkway; you’ll see the parked cars.
The best weather for migrating raptors is sunshine and a northwest wind which funnels thousands and thousands of raptors along Lake Superior during the fall migration. I am not clear about whether the heartbeat in my hand was mine or her’s.
Info, map: www.hawkridge.org