I was inside for only two minutes, three at the most. The time it took to refresh my quart jar with sun tea and ice cubes. But Timmy, my eight years old grandson, my only grandchild, had disappeared.
We had been watching White-winged doves jostling each other on the top of the low brick patio wall scarfing sunflower seeds. Goldfinches and Harris’ Sparrows were elbowing for space at the hanging feeders contending for their share of the bounty.
Timmy was stretched out in an Adirondack reclining chair beneath a mid-morning sun wearing cutoff jeans and Bat Man sunshades, adding freckles to his collection. When he had enough of my whispered comments about our avian friends and the God that created them he rubbed a little white sunscreen onto his nose, closed his eyes and terminated our bird lesson for the day.
His absence didn’t panic me, at first, although a quick survey of the yard left me mystified as to how he could vanish so fast. His sunglasses, I belatedly noted, were leaning cockeyed against the leg of a small table some distance from his chair, as if flung there. Several spots of red liquid were splattered on the table top. That couldn’t be from the hummingbird feeder, I thought. The feeder was hanging on a tree limb twenty feet away.
Blood! It was definitely blood. “Timmy” I shouted. Fear washed over me like an incoming tide. Just last week a scruffy man had jumped out of a white panel van and accosted a third-grade boy walking to school. Riley twisted away from his captor’s grip and fled. The perpetrator raced away, his dilapidated vehicle fogging blue smoke.
“Timmy! Answer me.” I ran into the back yard, searching right and left. The side gates were closed. The rear was unfenced and beyond the lawn was a dense stand of post oaks and undergrowth as virgin as when Cabeza de Vaca came tromping through Texas. “Timmy.”
Movement in the undergrowth caught my eye and as I ran that way, Timmy stepped from behind an oak and jogged to meet me.
“It was awesome, Grandpa. You should have seen it.”
I hugged him tight, relieved, trying to control my voice. “Seen what, Timmy?”
“Swoosh. It came tumbling out of that tree over there” he said, pointing to a silver leaf maple, and waggling his arms up and down while rocking side to side. “It grabbed a Gold Finch with its feet, and uh, sat on that table for a minute, then flew back there. Come look.”
He grabbed my hand and led me back into the brush. We angled around some oaks and he pointed. “See. That’s where he sat and picked its feathers off.”
Beneath a low hanging limb was a pile of feathers and whitewash. It was obvious this wasn’t the first time a hot meal had been snatched from our feeder by the bird of prey.
“Did you get a close look at it?”
“I’m sure you saw a hawk, but the question is what kind? Let’s look in my bird books and see if we can figure it out.” Putting my arm around his shoulders we walked toward the house. “That pile of feathers makes me think they are feeding young ones close by. He, or maybe she, will probably be back.”
I thought I knew what Timmy had seen for the bird was not a stranger. But, birds migrate and it could have been something else. The key to solving the mystery would depend upon Timmy’s keenness of observation.
After looking at the pictures, Timmy narrowed the possibilities down to two birds. They were so similar they fooled many experienced observers. But Timmy nailed it. “This one Grandpa. The one that looks like it is wearing a hood and has broad shoulders.”
That’s my grandson. He’s a sharpie. And so is the bird he picked out. It’s a sharpie too, as many birders refer to it: an Accipiter striatus, known by its common name as a Sharp-Shinned Hawk.
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