I was scanning through a few photographs that I captured recently during a visit to Woodlands Garden near Atlanta and was shocked to find one of a young Red-tailed Hawk with a cigarette in its beak. Does anyone else see James Dean? My own teenage son is testing his boundaries and I had hoped to escape the stress of rebellion for the afternoon. I hadn’t expected to be boldly stared down by a smoking juvenile hawk.

Given the chance, I would gladly take the opportunity to berate the world in general for littering and for carelessly discarding cigarettes, but I must come clean and tell you the whole story.

ATL 21Mar15 Red-tailed Hawk 03

The bird had flown passed me a few moments before and I had found it again further along the trail. It was fascinated by something on the ground and suddenly dropped from its perch about 10 feet above the ground and plunged into the leaf litter.

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It was clear that it had nearly caught something, but the prey was not giving up without a fight. A log that marked the edge of the trail was obscuring much of the action, but once the redtail got a good grip it became clear that it had captured a snake.

ATL 21Mar15 Red-tailed Hawk with snake 03

The reptile was battered with repeated lunges and stretched between talon and beak, but continued to wriggle until the young hawk managed to get a good grip on the head and after that there was only likely to be one outcome.

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The bird waved the snake around as if to satisfy itself that it was dead and then began to bolt it down (I would have given either of my remaining teeth to see it shlurp up the snake like a strand of spaghetti, but actually it thrust its head and neck forward for each gulp and swallowed a few inches at a time).

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The smoking picture was the last shot before the whole thing was finished. The illusion of a filter and ash at either end of the cigarette are caused by injuries and snake juice.

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If you are in Atlanta and find yourself on the southeast edge of town, looking for birds, Woodlands Garden can be found at the intersection of Scott Blvd and Clairemont Ave (a short way beyond  Fernbank Natural History Museum and Fernbank Science Centre) at Google Earth ref; 33 47 7.78N 84 18 12.61W. It is a small site of only seven acres that has been left in trust for the enjoyment and education of whomsoever might wish to visit. You may even be lucky enough to coincide your visit with a cultural event such as a cello recital amongst the trees. For more information, it has a website www.woodlandsgarden.org

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Woodlands Garden does not have its own eBird hotspot yet, but I feel that is an oversight that should soon be remedied. It is, after all easily accessible from dawn ’til dusk, with its own parking.

Written by Redgannet
Redgannet worked for more than 35 years as a flight attendant for an international airline. He came to birding late in his career but, considering the distractions, doesn't regret the missed opportunities. He was paid to visit six continents and took full advantage of the chance to bird the world. He adopted the nom de blog, Redgannet, to avoid remonstrations from his overbearing employer, but secretly hoped that the air of mystery would make him more attractive to women. Now grounded, he is looking forward to seeing the seasons turn from a fixed point.