Unhinged Alaska: Big Duke and the hawks of spring

I have recently rebooted my attempt to meditate and have achieved a personal level of bliss of just under thirty seconds before something goes sideways in our little patch of paradise.

Last week, I had scarcely set sail through a mystical fiord surrounded by spectacular mental visions of spring when reality exploded across the back yard.

It was Big Duke, our resident feral alpha pheasant, leading a panicked flock of younger and less seasoned birds in what looked to be evasive maneuvers. They were all in warp drive and smokin’ for the dense brush of our neighbor’s field.

I’ve experienced similar scenes when our mutts have inadvertently stumbled across a brood lurking within the alders. The sudden encounter always ended up scaring the hell out of both sides. Not this time. Our, doppelgänger for a squat musk ox, Howard, was behind the TV sleeping off a huge bowl of kibbles for doddering dogs. His mini mutt shadow was in my wife’s lap staring at me with her “Mom’s cool, you on the other hand, are a dork that we keep around to feed us” look.

It quickly became apparent what had triggered the birds into acting as though they had spotted a politician in the neighborhood. A couple of small grey hawks were in serious pursuit looking to morph Big Duke or part of his pack into a squab substitute.

Spring had definitely arrived.

I’ve always considered the return of these migratory hawks as part of the last dying sighs of winter. Big Duke and his gang, on the other hand, could give a &%$# less what the raptors’ sudden appearance portends other than they have now been added to something else’s culinary menu.

Fortunately, the rooster and his flight-of-the-frantic managed to drop into some gnarly undergrowth leaving the hawks with empty claws and a craving for a prey with the mental alertness of a grape.

In all of the years we have lived here, I’ve never seen a raptor score a main course hit on a wild pheasant roaming our acreage. There have been some close calls though.

Some of the younger cock roosters let their libido overrule their common sense when the mating season rolls around and the preliminary skirmishes commence.

They start squawking and challenging each other from their hides in the pucker brush while slowly slinking toward an open area to try and catch a look at who they are mouthing off to. If it’s Big Duke, they quickly turn a tail feature and skulk off to challenge something smaller than a feathery tank with an attitude. If it’s someone more their size, they’ll step out and insult the other guy until he gets riled enough to take on an initial stare down.

They puff up, circle, flap wings, fake a few head-down charges, then step back, reassess their strategy and take a break to check out if any hens are paying attention.

It really doesn’t matter because the issue is now territorial but it’s always nice to have an audience to strut their stuff for if they kick their opponent’s keister.

These adolescent bravado brawls are where the close calls enter the picture.

Normally, fueled by a hormonal nitro assist, horndog ring necks become fairly easy targets for a stealthy talon attack, but not around here.

The sky-bum raptors passing through the area this year must be rookies or have the basic IQ of a root vegetable.

Judging by their performance so far, it’s probably both.

As of this writing, I’ve witnessed multiple aerial assaults on three small flocks in the neighborhood. None have been successful because the pheasants have fine-tuned their sky threat awareness and also perch in the alders when the coyotes are on the prowl.

The hawks will move on soon and the final dust-ups for dominance will commence. As usual, Big Duke will flatten the opposition, amass his harem and fire up his chick production modus operandi.

Hopefully, we should see two broods this year because Old Man Winter took some personal time off and left the fowl easily accessible food sources. Plus, B.D. looks like he renewed his gym member ship and is promenading around like he has a secret stash of little blue pills.

We’ll see. By next fall, if there are enough colorful dudes bumping into each other around here, I may come up with names for them like Panko, Stir Fry, Smokey, Sautéed and Marinade.

Yeah, that sounds like an excellent plan.

Nick can be reached at ncvarney@gmail.com if he isn’t busy trying to pry open his tackle box.

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