The raven paused a moment, head cocked, the hard jet chips of its eyes scanning the skies above. It sees a shape, soaring, circling not too far away. With a great cry of recognition, the raven launches itself into battle, sounding the alarm that the enemy had returned ...

I saw an amazing thing today. One usually doesn't think of the suburbs as a proper avian battleground, but that's exactly what my neighborhood was today. A field of engagement in a battle between the hunter, and the hunted.

... the raven is soon met by two more, joining in the chase and sounding the call to arms. Then they are upon the enemy, attacking, slashing with beak and talons, screeching their rage at the intruder. The intruder fights bravely, uttering its own distinctive battle cry, by using its superior form and instinct to scatter its opposition's unified front ...

Birds of prey are rather common in my hometown. For years, a very large snowy white owl has haunted the nighttime skies over my neighborhood, thrilling me to the core the two times I've seen it in the last seven years. Once I was surprised on the way to work by a very large golden eagle watching me from its perch on top of a streetlight. I've seen many falcons, which make up for their smaller size with lethal speed.

But by far the raptor that I've seen most often is the red-tailed hawk. These very large and powerful birds can be seen all over the place, though it's rare one will come into a well populated suburb for any length of time.

... the hawk shrieked in triumph and hurled itself up higher in the sky, looking for a place to rest for just a bit in the confusion caused by crumbling of the opposition's front line troops. The ravens swirled around each other, confused and uncertain how the hawk could have survived superior numbers ...

That's just what happened today, however. I was puttering around my bedroom, and heard through the window a strange bird call, something in between a quacking and a honking. Thinking perhaps some ducks or geese were in the area, I went outside and scanned the skies. Much to my surprise, it was a raven making this odd noise, perched at the top of a small pine tree by my driveway. It had puffed itself up to an enormous size, so much larger and fatter looking than ravens (already big birds to begin with) normally look that at first I thought this one had some kind of serious health problem. Then I noticed 2 of its partners coming in for a landing, uttering the same cry and puffing themselves up in a similar fashion.

It was then I realized I had stepped into the middle of a battlefield.

... the hawk found a tree with thick protective branches, and flew directly into them, gaining a measure of protection and camouflage to help deal with the threats facing it ...

Just as I was starting to figure out that the ravens must be trying to frighten off some kind of intruder, the hawk launched itself from one of the lower branches of the tree ... just a little higher than my head. It flew directly over me, missing my noggin by no more than a foot. The sound of its wings beating was a massive whooshing sound, the wind they created doing more than just ruffling my hair. Then it was up, into the sky, with the ravens hot on its tail, still making their strange cry. They flung themselves at the hawk, and you could actually hear the sounds of talons and beaks making slashes in flesh. The hawk, though, with its superior aerodynamics, was soon able to outmaneuver the ravens, and fled into a tall thick pine tree across the street from my house. The ravens landed at its very top, trying to penetrate the thick mesh of branches lower down. I couldn't see the hawk, but I knew it was in there.

... from within its protective station in the tree, the hawk could hear the ravens trying to reach it from above, though they were being thwarted by their size, unable to find a way to push through the branches to reach their target. The hawk rested for a moment, preening itself and looking for signs of serious wounds. A few small feathers had been lost, a small cut was on its shoulder, but for the most part, it was still in fighting trim. The hawk could stay here, fairly safe, until the ravens tired of trying to penetrate the defense the tree offered.

A brief respite was all there was to be had however. The call to arms the ravens had continued to sound had had its intended effect. With a raucous cry, the second line troops threw themselves into the fray and they were smaller and greater in number ...

The strange cry the ravens were making revealed its purpose about 30 seconds later. Suddenly, from every point of the compass, the trees exploded with various medium sized birds ... smaller than a raven, but much larger than a finch or sparrow. Chief amongst this group were about seven or eight mockingbirds, and several orioles. In an amazing sight, these birds rushed the tree, forming an almost perfect globe around it before plunging into its depths to drive out the intruder.

... from all directions the hawk found itself besieged by its enemies, greater in number and louder by far than the ravens. The hawk realized its critical error. By sheltering itself, it had given up the sky, its main advantage over its enemies, and the thick branches rendered practically useless the hawk's vision, another huge disadvantage to suffer in the face of a suddenly more mobile opponent. From branches above and below, the mockingbirds and orioles struck with lightning quick blows, immediately retreating to higher or lower branches, then attacking again. The hawk panicked, and began beating its wings to try and drive these enemies away. It was extremely restricted in this tight space, however, and lost its balance, falling ...

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Incredibly, at least 3 distinct species of birds had united to drive off a common enemy, and they were succeeding. The pine tree across the street was a fury of activity. I couldn't see exactly what was going on inside, but judging from the incredible racket made by the mockingbirds (the orioles, one of my favorite songbirds, were completely silent in their attacks) I knew the hawk was doomed if it continued to stay in that tree. The smaller birds had the advantage of mobility amongst the branches, and they could peck the hawk to death if nothing else. After about 10 minutes of this incredible siege, I heard a sound that could only be a large object crashing through tree branches. Something was falling out of the tree ...

... the hawk, at the last minute, found it remembered how to fly and launched itself up, wings beating furiously, climbing higher and higher, with an armada of its enemies pursuing it. The hawk climbed higher and higher, beginning to sense the weaker birds falling behind. Wings still pumping furiously, the hawk continued to take the sky, and eventually only the ravens remained in pursuit ...

The next thing I knew, the hawk had somehow dropped or fallen into a lower section of the tree, where the branches were more widely spaced, and this enabled it to take to the air. A small fleet of ravens, orioles, and mockingbirds gave pursuit. The orioles dropped out quickly ... you could almost see them hit the border of what they considered to be their territory and turn back. The mockingbirds, suprising me throughout this experience with their incredible aggressiveness, kept pace for a while longer, then they too sheared off and returned home. I could barely see the remaining birds, so high and distant they had become.

I was shaking with excitement, thrills of electricity racing up and down my spine, my flesh humping up into goosebumps. Even though I'd seen birds fight before, I had never imagined I'd see anything like this ... this battle, this war. I was speechless in my amazement.

... finally the hawk was free, its last pursuers, after one more attempt to rend the hawk to pieces with beak and talon, turned back and headed towards home. The hawk uttered a defiant cry of rage, of victory, and warning ...

This scene repeated itself 3 times more throughout the afternoon, and while neither side seemed to be doing serious damage to the other, I could tell the hawk was laboring towards the end. I don't know if the hawk had decided to nest in the neighborhood, or if the pickings were unusually slim in its normal hunting grounds, but whatever the reason, I was able to witness its lonely, hopeless plight for quite some time as it tried to obtain its hawkish goals in and around my neighborhood. Finally, as evening was drawing down, the hawk gave up, and flew off in the direction of the ocean. It didn't return.

Oddly, the mockingbirds and ravens didn't pursue the hawk on that final departure. It's almost as if somehow they knew that their enemy wouldn't be coming back this time. Gradually the birds settled back down into their normal routines. The bluebirds resumed their nest building. The red-winged blackbirds resumed their seed gathering. Even the ravens and mockingbirds forgot their common enemy and began to fight amongst themselves, their brief alliance forgotten. And I turned back to the inside of my house, still incredulous over the incredible things I'd just witnessed, when the birds went to war in my neighborhood.

... and the hawk, soaring, forever hunting, forever fighting, forever free ...

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