The Maine Woods

A Publication of the Forest Ecology Network

 Volume Five     Number One                           Late Winter 2001

 Close Encounters of an Avian Kind

by Andrew Paul Brissette

The Northern Goshawk, one of Maine's larger hawks, is found throughout the state. A forest dweller, it is dependent on mature forest for nesting.

I have been birding off and on since the age of ten. Over the years my grandmother, Kathleen Anderson, has edged me towards changing birding from a hobby to a passion, and just recently she has completed the task. Throughout the years, what really got me interested in birding are the raptors. I don't know if it was just their size, or their amazing eyes, sense of smell, and hunting instinct that they carry in their blood. It just all amazes me. Through my lifetime there have been really four main raptors I have gotten to know, and that all started at the young age of five.

In the year 1992 I took a trip to Montana with my grandmother and grandfather. We were driving and we saw this Golden Eagle fly by. It perched on a nearby ledge. We put the window scope on it and I swear that Golden Eagle looked right into the scope, directly into my eyesor so I thought when I was five. Then came the Bald Eagle, which I got to know when my grandmother took me to see the release of an injured eagle that had been returned to good health. Next, during the years of 1998 and 1999 there was a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks nesting in my back yard. I observed these birds day in and day out from my bedroom window.

The fierce visage of the adult Northern Goshawk. The Northern Goshawk, one of Maine's larger hawks, is found throughout the state. A forest dweller, it is dependent on mature forest for nesting. Photo by Paul Donahue.

And last but certainly not least was the Northern Goshawk. For several years my grandmother had them nesting in her woods. Just this year my grandmother took me out there to see them. After that I went into the woods to see them on numerous occasions. I learned their loud "kek kek kek" call. People had told me they were big, but you don't really appreciate that until you have had an experience with them like I did.

One day Nana told me that bird artist Bob Clem, whom I had met at Massachusetts Audubon Society's Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield, was coming to put up a blind to videotape these Goshawks and what they do when humans aren't around to observe them. Well, after he had put the blind up and was out there from 12:00p.m. to 2:00 p.m. videotaping the Goshawks, he brought his tape back to Nana's house. As I watched it I saw this bird bring prey to the young, and the young bobbing up and down. I had looks at Goshawks such as I had never seen before.

That same day, after Bob had left, I asked, "Nana, can I go out to the blind?" but she said, "Oh no, you mustn't disturb them again today. Maybe in a few days." Well, those few days passed and I asked again. She nodded and said, "Go ahead." I had to be back at my house for dinner. I ran out to the blind full of excitement. As I made my way through the woods I realized they hadn't made any noise. What I didn't know is they were off hunting. I got into the blind and watched and for ten minutes, but they didn't show up. I was just taking my last glimpse when in they came. I watched as they brought in food for the young. I observed for about an hour and then saw it was ten minutes before five. I packed up to start back, but the Goshawks weren't too happy about that.

As soon as I opened the blind I heard "kek ! kek! kek! kek!" and down they came. I dove onto the ground to avoid getting hit in the head by one and picked up a stick while I was down there. Meanwhile, both Goshawks were taking turns swooping at me. I started to run with the stick above my head. After about twenty yards one of the Goshawks took my stick right out of my hands. I then plastered myself against a tree where they couldn't see me. There was a moment of silence. I looked to the left side of me and there in the tree behind me, about ten yards away, the female was perched. I then looked to the right of me and there in the tree behind me, about ten yards away, was the male. There was a mosquito biting my leg and I moved to swat it. Down came the Goshawks, swooping in front of me, coming so close to getting me with those tremendous talons of theirs. I went to get another stick and down they came again, once more coming inches from me. I was trapped.

Andrew Brissette and his mentor and grandmother Kathleen Anderson, former Executive Director of the Manomet Bird Observatory, birding on the shore. Photo by Teresa Wood.

I waited for about half an hour trying not to move but sometimes having to, which caused them to dive again. Every once in awhile I would slowly poke my head out from behind the tree and watch these birds. They were truly spectacular. I looked at my watch and it was 5:20. I knew I was in trouble. Finally I heard my grandmother's voice calling "Andrew, Andrew, Andrew." I said, "Nana, I'm out here. The Goshawks won't let me leave." She said, "Pick up a stick." I replied, "They took my stick." Then she came through the woods to get me. We made our way back and all the Goshawks did was scream. I guess one boy looked easier to pick off then two people, one of them being an adult.

That was surely the best and most awesome look at a bird in the wild that I have ever experienced. It was really a special thing for me, but at the same time I couldn't have been more scared.

Andrew Brissette is an 8th grader from Middleboro, Massachusetts and the grandson of Kathleen S. Anderson, former Executive Director of the Manomet Bird Observatory. This article was originally published in the journal Bird Observer.

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