The vigil has been going on for a couple of weeks now. On both sides of Alewife Brook Parkway the congregation has grown, people camping out in folding chairs, people with spotting scopes, binoculars, and massive, multi-lensed cameras on tripods, all tilted at the same upward angle, trained on the window ledge above and to the left of the big red 185 on the up to now hardly-noticed office building across from the Fresh Pond Shopping Center.
But this spring, 185 Alewife Brook Parkway has been the home address of a much-noticed family of red-tailed hawks. And for the past week, that attention has built tenfold as birders and photographers (see above, by the peerless George McLean) and the irresistibly curious gather daily to witness the moment when the robust older chicks, named Larry and Lucy, and maybe even the youngest, Lucky, will “fledge,” or FLY.
That moment, certainly for the oldest two, is considered (by human experts) to be several days overdue. The first chick, Lucy, hatched in mid-April. The other two emerged at five-day intervals. Redtail chicks normally leave the nest after six weeks, give or take a few days. 46 days is the outside number bruited about. Today—May 30—is, I believe, day 49.
I’d been hearing about them for weeks from friends, fellow birders—there was even an article in the Boston Globe—but I had promises to keep and warblers to chase. Only this past week have I joined the fold, the day after the heat wave broke.
I saw the parents come and go, demonstrating the goal with agility and finesse. I saw Dad, also known as Buzz, settle on the big Fresh Pond Cinema marquee in the shopping center, just above “How to Train Your Dragon,” and proceed to shake a dead mouse by the tail to free it of blades of grass (none of this vegetarian crap) before ferrying it across the parkway and dropping it in the nest. I saw Mom, a.k.a. Ruby, deliver some luckless fledgling, a starling or a robin, only to have the trio ignore it, perhaps because it was unplucked.
Mostly, along with everyone else, I watched the fledglings. I watched on the shopping center side while standing in the hot sun; on the 185 side while lying down in the shade, sniffed by an inquisitive Shih-tzu. I watched the chicks eat; poop (the wall behind the nest marked with mysterious white runes); perch on the nest edge three abreast; beat their magnificent four- to five-foot wingspans in each other’s faces; nestle next to each other; step on each other; and at times, thrillingly, take practice jumps into the air, causing corresponding leaps in the observer’s stomach.
But not fly.
You can’t help but wonder if this burgeoning community of vigilantes is, ironically, cramping their style. Hard enough to take the ultimate leap off the high diving platform without a crowd of your once and still distrusted enemy gathered below with hardware not unlike cannon barrels aimed at you.
But after all this time, they probably know that the vibes are good. In fact, maybe we’ve made their comfort zone too big. Given them too compelling a reason not to flee, lest they deprive us, this obviously friendly gang, of their company, or at least to keep an eye on what we’ll do next, to chronicle our comings and goings, sometimes hatching out of our strange metallic eggs, but not, disappointingly, taking wing.
Instead, we’re apparently nesting, too, taking up residence opposite theirs. Becoming instant cognoscenti for the benefit of passersby.
“What kind of bird is that?”
“Is that an eagle?”
“What’s everyone looking at?”
And we (professional or neophyte) reply with pride or with weariness, depending on how many times we’ve answered, but with a deepening sense of propriety: “Those are red-tailed hawks. Babies. 49 days old. They’re going to fly. Any minute!”