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Graelem’s Song

We were living in north Texas when we discovered raptors nesting in a tree behind our


My husband and I noticed the adult birds, perched like silent sentinels as they hunted

from the trees lining the southern boundary of our land. Our property adjoined a forty-

acre pasture. Here, no doubt, the hunting was prime. I had heard the sounds, high-pitched

squeaks, for several weeks prior while I worked with my horse in the barn. A gate latch

hinge in need of oiling, I wondered? I did not identify the cries as those of baby hawks.

If I had, I would have taken notice much sooner.

Earlier that day my husband mentioned a large raptor had “buzzed” him, swooping low

enough for him to feel the air displaced alarmingly close to his head.

“I’ll bet they have a nest in that big old tree,” he said.

Squinting up into the thick greenery above us, we found the thatch of brown twigs quite

easily, nestled in a tri-joint of the massive oak standing just behind our barn. It was easily

thirty feet from the ground. I had no binoculars to aid my study, but it did not take too

much effort to identify a small, white head covered with fuzzy baby feathers peering out

from over its edge.

A baby bird with a bad hairdo.

We noticed the adult birds watching us, circling the tree. My husband, who had studied

raptors in college, tentatively identified the species as gyrfalcons. He wasn’t sure, though,

and their screech didn’t quite match that of a falcon.

I went to the Internet to investigate. After engaging in a brief but extremely specific

process on an interactive bird identification website, I found a match. The coloration and

the shape of the tail indicated the bird was not a falcon at all, but a Swainson’s hawk. It

seems this species of hawk does migrate to and nest in some parts of northern Texas for

summer procreation. The recorded sound of their screech, emanating from my laptop

speakers, verified this identification as correct.

The average nest holds three eggs, I learned, and the baby hawks are usually on their

own and flying after about forty-five days. We had only seen one fuzzy, white head in the

nest. We vowed to observe more closely for the next several days. We discovered, in

addition to the adult hawks, two small, young birds frequenting the tree.

Then, there was Graelem, the name I gave to the runt of the batch, still nest-bound. He

was apparently the last to learn how to fly. We spent lazy afternoons, as the shadows

grew long, watching the baby edge out onto branches adjacent to his nest. He had a good

set of lungs. His screech sounded pitiful calling out to his siblings and parents when then

flew within sighting distance.

I worried for him. There were evenings when Graelem sat alone on that branch for

hours, calling endlessly for his supper. The other hawks were nowhere in sight. Hunting

had taken them farther that day, making them late in homecoming. Eventually, they did

return, supper swinging from one of their curved beaks.

For the evening, at least, Graelem’s sad song would end.

Over the next days, my daily perch became the bench under the oak tree. I craned my

neck, squinting to see Graelem amidst the branches above me. He was mottled gray and

white with speckles on his belly, his tail banded and squared. I called him by name and

spoke to him aloud. I’m sure the neighbors thought I was mad. But I wondered why he

was the last one left in the nest tucked in the tri-joint of that tree.

“Why, Graelem? Why are you afraid to fly?”

Was there something amiss? Would he ever earn his wings? But he seemed chipper

enough, chubby and alert. He soon came to recognize me, turning his head sideways to

peer down as I whistled my feeble imitation of the Swainson’s hawk characteristic cry.

I don’t think he believed me, though. I think he was just humoring me.

The fantasy did not last long enough. Less than a week had gone by, and my husband

came from the barn one evening to announce that Graelem was gone. He had seen no

action in the nest since the previous evening. Even sightings of the adult hawks had

waned. Graelem had apparently earned his wings.

I felt a strange kind of relief, adding to a profound sense of loss and emptiness. Sadly, I

realized I would never again see the baby bird with the bad hairdo.

But he granted me one last sighting. Several days later, I was alone at home and

headed to the barn to serve the horses their supper. A thunderstorm threatened. The winds

were steady and cool, the dark clouds to the west rumbling and flickering with promise of

much-needed Texas rain. I gazed up into the tangled branches, as I will probably always

henceforth do.

What I saw that night was incredible to my eyes.

A small bird floated, suspended against the southwesterly wind. He was literally

hanging in the air, motionless, very close to the nesting tree. Surely, I had lost my mind,

and this was some strange imagining.

I positioned myself directly beneath the bird and, studying him from below, could see

his speckled belly and striped, squared tail feathers. Looking closer, I recognized the

silhouette of that still-disheveled, bad hair.

“Graelem!” I cried and whistled my feeble hawk call. He cocked his fuzzy, white head

to peer down at me. To my delight, he answered. Then he took flight, suddenly shifting

his wings. He soared on the wind in an ever-growing circle around me, the tree, our yard

and our barn. As he flew he called, and called, and called.

It was as though the fledgling was rejoicing, proclaiming to the universe his

emancipation from that nest.

I can fly! I can fly!

Suddenly his two siblings appeared. Now all three Swainson’s hawks floated above me

with outstretched wings.

The wind was picking up and thunder rumbling. I could feel big, warm drops of

summer rain starting to splotch the world around me. But the three young hawks

continued to circle, with their nesting tree at the center, and me gazing upward in awe at

the wondrous sight. Intermittently they would coast and hover, floating against the ever-

strengthening wind, remaining stationary for frozen fragments of time. I had never seen a

bird do this, harnessing the force of nature to stop in mid-air.

I felt honored to be privy to a most sacred moment. The magic of it moved me to tears.

I raised my arms to the sky. “Graelem!” When I imitated his screech, he answered

again. But just he. There was only one hawk’s cry on the air, though three circled above.

The baby bird with the bad hairdo had, truly, come to know me.

Then, they started their game, swooping so low I could feel the rush of wind as they

dove mere inches above my head.

The thrill was indescribable. I felt no fear. Only joy and utter amazement.

They were playing with me. They were young, joyous, and daring. And of me, they

were not afraid.

Drops of water came harder, faster, and closer together, soon coalescing into a

torrential sheet. The birds conceded, coasting gently into the nesting tree. They

disappeared between the branches of their birthplace. They knew, for now, playtime was


As the storm blew around me, I remained, starstruck. Tears of joy ran with the rain.

What a wondrous experience. How blessed I had been to experience a rare interaction

with one of nature’s most majestic creatures—the hawk.

F. S. Brown writes in many genres. In addition to her nonfiction pieces, she has published seven novels under two different pseudonyms. Her work has garnered recognition in a number of competitions. These days, she enjoys writing short pieces drawn from her own personal experience, those she hopes will stir emotion in the hearts of her readers. She loves nature, horses, and her very spoiled Persian kitty who enjoys walking across the keyboard at the most inopportune moments.

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