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blizzard warnings - 13:52 , 03 October 2013

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29 July 2003 - 23:23

most incredible eyes

The first sign of company was the heelers tearing off the bed, barking furiously at the front door. Before the wife or I could follow, the doorbell rang (you have to crank it).

A cop at the door. Not a rare occurrence here, but still usually not a good thing. It's the night-shift guy, the one who keeps such careful tabs on the owls.

He's bearing a small cardboard box. There's a young boy at his side. (Isn't until later in our conversation that I realize the boy came over on a bicycle. Halfway across town, racing the police car. And arrived at our doorway at the same time as the cop. Says something about the size of the town. The cop who, I would like to mention, is parked facing the wrong way in the street in front of our house. Which is cool, not because he is flaunting the law because he wears a uniform, but he knows, as we all do in town, that nobody really cares and nobody will complain. We all do it.)

The cop doesn't know what he's got in the box in his hand. Other than it's a bird, and has a broken wing.

It's a little box, not a foot long, and less than half as wide. Can't be much of a bird. I peek in, as the wife comes up alongside in the doorway.

A nighthawk.

Which, like everytime I have made that identification to someone holding one of these birds, gets the "So it is a hawk, then," response.

Uh, no. That's just its name. It's a relative of a poorwill.

An explanation that does nothing for most folks around here, unless they used to live back East and have an idea what a poorwill is. But it's better than trying to say "It's a goatsucker,", which will really get them confused.

Those slender birds with narrow wings, with the white patches on the wings, that soar around in the evening, making nasal "cheep" sounds?

This is one of them. They lazily zoom around, catching flying bugs.

First thing I notice, as it is every time I handle a nighthawk, is their incredible eyes.

So black, so deep, so huge. You could lose yourself staring into nighthawk eyes.

A careful inspection finds the right wing's broken, practically in the wrist joint (which is a bad thing). But also a round, bloody hole on the top of the wing at that point, and a matching hole on the bottom.

Been shot.

Cop knows immediately who to blame. Young boy been caught shooting at windows in town with a pellet gun. Already been in trouble with the law. The young cyclist, who found the bird, reports the same young man was shooting at birds yesterday.

We have a name, even if no proof.

Cop is in a talkative mood, and we're out on that porch for more than a half hour, each swatting at mosquitoes all the while. The wife and I now know more than we want to about his finances, investments, retirement plans, and what the owls and rabbits in town have been up to. By the time he leaves, we have noticeably diminished the mosquito population on the porch.

Time to tend to the bird.

Wife and eldest son give it some Karo-syrup sweetened water, and a fly. And the same for breakfast the next morning. But there is no way even a family of humans can gather enough flying insects to support one of these birds. So I call the Audubon folks, the ones who will hopefully receive this bird from the wife on Thursday morning.

How do you feed a nighthawk?

Red meat, she replies. Small chunks, with no fat. No hamburger. Apparently, the ones she has had in the past take quite well to human feeding, running up to take food from her fingers once they figure out what's what.

So, for dinner this evening, our injured insectivorous guest became probably the first nighthawk in the state, if not the world, to feast on pronghorn antelope meat. In nice, fingernail-sized chunks.

Now, if you've looked at that itty-bitty beak in the photo, and wondered how anything goes into such a small mouth, much less a fingernail-sized chunk of antelope, I would have to point out that looks are deceiving. Their mouth is not in their beak. Rather, their beak is perched on their lips. The mouth actually goes almost from eye to eye, making a huge chasm that most moths would fit into. So, they're relatively easy to feed.

Now, if it can just hang on until Thursday.

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