Interstate 20 Kestrel

Sparrow Hawk (Falco sparverius, from Peterson's Field Guide)

In my long commute to Abilene from Mingus, Texas (87.2 miles), I see flora and fauna of Cross Timbers and west Texas plains along Interstate 20.  The Clear Fork of the Brazos River is the major river in the area, meandering north of the interstate at a distance I cannot discern from the highway, but within sight of the wind turbines that I see turning swiftly with the wind.

Between Abilene and Clyde, Texas, I have seen for several years a particular type of hovering bird above the interstate that dives down, usually on the median, to take a field mouse.  The angle of the sun has not been right for me to identify the bird nor have I minimal traffic to definitely type the predator.  (Trucks carry a lot of cargo on Interstate 20 between El Paso and Dallas-Fort Worth and must be respected.)  Yesterday, however, at the same spot (about a two-hundred-yard splotch) that I have seen these birds over the years, I was able to identify a Sparrow Hawk (Falco sparverius), as my elusive companion for the commute.

The Sparrow Hawk or “American Kestrel” flashed a rufous back, wings spread with blue-gray color and a rufous tail, signifying a male, as it dove onto the median.  Returning home, driving east, the sun on my right side at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon, I saw brightly illuminated the plumage and color of this beautiful hawk.  The sighting occurred within five seconds, but I will remember this Interstate 20 Kestrel for a long, long time.

* * *

How can we ever think ourselves alone when in the absence of our own kind we have kestrel, oak and four-legged companions about?  But we do feel estranged.  I have and will feel alone again.  Yet, so, and despite it all, our senses become filled with flapping wings, stamping hooves and trees swaying in the wind among ten thousand sights and sounds.  Our yearning for connectedness disappears with a self-loss in nature’s rhythm, even along the interstate.  It is a kind of sacred hoop, Black Elk once said.

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “Interstate 20 Kestrel

  1. Kestrel, our smallest falcon, are indeed a joy to watch. I am lucky in that they frequent the area I live in and are easily seen perching on the phone lines and fence posts that follow our rural roads. They are indeed beautiful with the males showing darker, more vibrant, colors, as is the case with most birds.
    I’m glad you have this mighty little hunter to watch for on your long commute.

  2. We have the American Kestrel in these parts for a few short months during the summer. They sit on telephone wires, wait, and pounce on field mice and voles when they come out of cover.
    You are spot on when you say when we loose nature’s rhythm we loose ourselves. Kind of sums up present day society in so many ways, doesn’t it. Brilliant. Thank you.

  3. Beautiful birds! I have always admired, and to some extent envied, the falcons.

  4. I have found that my connection to nature and its inhabitants provides companionship, a feeling of connectedness when seeming solitude, if not loneliness, is all around. It has and will continue to sustain me. Thank you for sharing your own experiences and thoughts along these lines. Nothing like a hawk to make one feel less alone, more connected.

  5. Koda'sTotems

    Jack, I just had my own powerful connection to a raptor- in my case, a brilliant white Krider’s Hawk. I find your post here beautiful. And I recall 20 years ago when I just a kid myself, interning at a veterinary hospital. I was outside breathing in some fresh MN spring air and out of nowhere this little hawk (or what I thought) came barrelling out the sky after a bird and misjudged his landing, bonking himself on the head and knocking himself out! I ran inside to get my boss, a veterinarian, and told him “a baby hawk just stunned himself!” He laughed when he saw it, gently picking him up in a towel and wrapping him up to keep him warm. He told me it was a little falcon, a Kestral, and we took it to the University of MN Raptor Rehabilitation Center where they nursed him back to health and set him free. I’ll always love Kestrals after that experience.

    • Kristy, What a story you have. The Kestral I saw dove to the ground for a field mouse. With all the interstate traffic I wonder how he keeps his balance for the mice with all the turbulence of trucks. I do admire your work with animals and the hospitalization of injured friends to allow them to recuperate. I’ve wondered often about the falcon? you took up to Colorado last year when it was injured. Hope all is well there in Raton.

      • Koda'sTotems

        Alas, Jack, the poor Merlin I wrote about last year did not survive his severe wing break. I took him, actually, down to Espanola New Mexico to the wonderful wildlife rehabilitation center there and they worked valiantly to save him but he died. They were nice enough to contact me to let me know the outcome. It made me very sad, but he’ll always be with me in memory.

      • Jeez! So sorry. I have thought about your effort and how he looked in your photos. He will be with me in memory, too.

  6. Val Erde

    The bird that we call a Sparrowhawk here in the UK, is this one. It’s a fabulous bird, very impressive to look at, but it can really decimate the numbers of small birds a lot of which are already in decline. So when we have visits from a sparrowhawk, or a kestrel, or a falcon, we tend to try and shoo them away. (We also have buzzards and the occasional – protected – Red Kite here, but they don’t bother too much with live food, preferring to go for roadkill or another creature’s left overs).

  7. Erin R

    Dr. Matthews, I thought you would be interested in this. The last 2 weeks a huge number of tall, grey cranes have taken up residence in some fields a couple of miles south of my house. Every time I drive by some are circling up in the sky and others are eating grain. There are probably at least 200-300 of them. Very beautiful, strange birds. They stop by every year. One year they stayed in the field beside my house for several days and drove the dogs crazy!

  8. Anonymous

    You are right Dr. Matthews; a bird field guide at school today confirmed that it is the sandhill cranes. Every year they travel all the way from Siberia, Alaska, and Canada to winter in the grain fields from Arizona to Florida and even Cuba. Seeing them is making my daily drive to school far more enjoyable.

  9. Erin R.

    The above post is from me, sorry!

  10. Kittie Howard

    Well said! I’ve sometimes never felt more connected than when I was alone with Nature. And, unfortunately, there are certain types of people who make me wish I were alone with Nature, if you get my drift.

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