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Possumhaw: Illegal tail feathers


Shannon Bardwell



My wildlife biologist brother spent some time with us over the holidays. Coming through the door, he said, "Being the creative type, I saw something that you might want, but you have to tell me right now so I can go get it." 


Running through my mind were a number of things -- old furniture I could repurpose, a piece of art, a hard-to-find-book, vintage jewelry, a living plant? 


"Down the road," he explained, "I saw a red-tailed hawk on the side of the road eating something. I couldn't see what it was eating, but when I came back the hawk was dead. It's in perfect condition, and I thought you might want it." 


As I looked at him, trying to formulate my response, he continued, "You see, it is quite rare to have a red-tailed hawk because they are protected, so to find one in perfect condition is a real find. You could use the tail feathers in an arrangement or you could have it mounted, but you'd have to get some kind of permission." 


Since it's rude not to graciously accept a gift I said, "Sure, I would love it." 


Off he went to fetch the dead bird, hoping it would still be there. Being such a rare find you never know who or what might beat you to it. In minutes he was back with the bird wrapped in a kitchen garbage bag. He showed off the bird and, indeed, the feathers were beautiful. 


I suggested that we first check with Dr. Harry Sherman at Plymouth Bluff Environmental Center, as I always give him first dibs on anything dead. Dr. Sherman said that he already had a red-tailed hawk, but thanks anyway. 


I put the bird in the bag outside the back door on the porch after assuring my brother that our cat, Jack, would not disturb it, since Jack refuses to go outside in sub-freezing temperatures. 


A conversation ensued between my brother and nephew concerning having the hawk mounted. One suggested, "Perhaps you should create a scene like maybe the hawk tearing into a squirrel sitting on a log. It would be fitting with the look you have going here." 


I couldn't come up with a response for that one but wondered about "the look you have going here." 


The hawk remained at the back door for several days. I admit the tail feathers were beautiful, but Sam was concerned that someday a law enforcement figure might come to the house and notice that we had illegal tail feathers. I was more concerned about plucking tail feathers out of a hawk's rear end. 


Then it happened. I opened the back door to feed the songbirds, and I noticed the bag was missing. Down the porch a ways was the bag. It had been ripped opened, and the hawk was gone. 


Eventually my brother asked, "So what happened with the hawk?" 


All I had to say about its disappearance was, "It's really hard to say."


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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