One morning two weeks ago, I started my morning routine as usual: wake up, hit snooze button, wake up again, get out of bed, feed cats, take a shower. Itchy and Scratchy are usually waiting (im)patiently at the sunroom door, ready for breakfast, and of course, when I feed them, Itchy usually takes three bites and announces he’s done. By the time I usually get out of the shower, Itchy’s insistent crescendo of meowing has woken Ray (and probably the whole neighborhood!); the only thing that will assuage him is to let him out into the garden.

On this particular day, Itchy had already gone outside, and I had continued my morning routine: check email, read the newest blog posts from my favorite bloggers, and finish getting ready for the day. I walked back into the bedroom, and I glanced out to the sunroom, where I saw Scratchy staring intently at something outside. I figured he must want to go outside as well, so I went into the sunroom to let him out.

And that’s when I saw it: a large bird, face down, on the balcony right outside the sunroom’s sliding glass door.

“Ray!” I shouted through the bathroom door. “There’s a falcon or something outside the sunroom. I think it’s dead.”

Ray opened the bathroom door, looked outside and said, “That’s not big enough to be a falcon.”

“Okay, a hawk or something. A large bird of prey. It’s not a sparrow.”

“Did Itchy catch that and drag it up the stairs?”

“Um, no, Itchy usually brings headless mice. I think bird this is a little big for him. But I think it might be dead. What should we do?”

Ray mumbled something about going to take a shower and retreated back into the bathroom.

Great, I thought. I guess it’s my job to take care of the dead bird, since I’m the one who cleans the cat puke and disposes of the aforementioned decapitated rodents. It’s hard enough to pick up dead mice, though; this bird was as big as the cats.

So I did what anyone would do when faced with a situation they know nothing about: I looked stuff up on the interwebs. Wikipedia told me that the accipiter in question was the Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), and a quick Google search told me, to my dismay, that NJ Department of Animal Control didn’t have an office in my county. I did find a phone number to call, though…only to find out that office hours started at 9:00. I looked at the clock. Crap. It was only 8:15.

Okay, I thought. This can’t be too bad. I’ve always enjoyed biology and never got squeamish when dissecting animals, so I’ll just treat this like a biology experiment. I put some gloves on and opened the sliding glass door.

Scratchy inched out the door, cautiously snuck over to the bird, sniffed it, and backed away quite quickly, retreating to the safety of the sunroom. Not a good sign.

I picked up the bird. The head lolled lifelessly to the side, its eyes closed. The body was still warm, but there was no muscular response to my touch at all. As I began to look at it more closely, examining it for puncture wounds or anything that would explain its appearance on my balcony, a spider scurried out from in between its chest feathers.

I screamed and dropped the hawk.

Then I felt terrible. I’m sorry, hawk, I kept repeating in my mind to the dead bird’s soul, if it was still around. I bent over to pick it up and saw that one of its eyes was open.

Now I started to freak out. Was that eye open before? Did it open when I dropped it? Is this animal really dead? Did I kill it by dropping it? Oh, no!

But I calmed myself down quickly, saying out loud, over and over again, “I’m an adult. This thing is dead. There’s nothing to worry about.” I took the bird down the stairs to the hole that I had dug for it.

But as I placed the bird in its grave, I thought I saw its leg move. It could have been a trick of the light, the way I was holding it, but I couldn’t bear the thought of possibly burying this bird alive, even if it was mostly dead already. I put the hawk down next to the hole and went inside.

Once inside, I told Ray about my experience. I told him I was having the heeby-jeebies, and I didn’t feel comfortable burying the thing. He said I should see if the state wants to take it and test it for whatever avian diseases there are in the area. It still wasn’t 9:00 yet, but I thought I’d try calling Animal Control just in case.

I got through to a dispatcher, who then patched me through to someone in Animal Control. I told them my story, and they said that if the hawk wasn’t dead already, it probably would be very shortly, so there was no point in them coming by to pick it up. “Don’t you want to test it for West Nile or something?” I asked.

No, they responded. The state hasn’t requested that they pick up any dead birds at this time, so they’re not going to bother doing it. I can do whatever I want with the bird: bury it, leave it be, or stick it in a garbage bag and throw it out. (It’s nice to know that the Animal Control people are so sensitive!)

I decided that I would put the bird to rest at the foot of my rose bush. I didn’t bury it, but I figured that with the heat and humidity forecast for that weekend, the body would decompose quickly, especially in the open air. I briefly thought about saving some of the feathers from its gorgeous plumage, but I decided that I wanted to be as respectful as possible, so I let it alone.

Red Hawk Down
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