Recently, at one of my kid's sporting events, an amazing, awe-inspiring event took place in the skies above, encouraging all of us spectators, family and friends alike, to abandon watching the actual game in favor of the unfolding scene.
I present to you, the hawk and the sparrow.
It was early evening, that pivotal time when the sun begins its slow descent, signaling the insects of dusk to come out and partake in their human feasting. Clouds were sparse and lazy, the few present hovering protectively over the field. The baseball game, exuding palpable excitement, was extremely close, tied after three full innings. The kids, playing for sole possession of first place in their league, were treating us to a great game.
They had earned our attention. As any parent knows, some of these sporting events are downright dull and painful to sit through (what we don't do for love), but this baseball game, thankfully, was not one of those times. We fans, spread out over two stands of bleachers, were rooting our teams on, excited for the great heart our kids were showing.
So, to draw our attention away from the game, something very unusual, very unique, would have had to occur.
And it did.
I had heard the sparrow and the hawk before I had seen them. It was a distant screech, presumably from the hawk, mingled with several chirping squawks from the sparrow. Intrigued, I looked up to find the small lone sparrow flying in hot pursuit of the hawk. Yes, I got the order right. The sparrow was chasing the hawk.
Now, I have seen smaller birds chase after bigger birds before, most likely to protect their nests and the contents. But those interactions, although entertaining, were extremely brief. Either the smaller bird succeeded in driving off the predator or else the bigger bird ignored the vain attempts of bamboozlement and continued with the planned attack.
But this sparrow, well, was the underdog--the "little engine that could." It tailed the hawk for a good twenty seconds, its incessant chirping interrupted only by the occasional screech from the fleeing hawk, before suddenly gaining on the hawk, swooping in, and pecking at the hawk's back and head. It then swooped away as the hawk circled in the air.
I was entranced. The hawk circled around and, much to my chagrin, the little sparrow did not take leave. Rather, it seemed to do its own little dance before circling and flying head-on toward the hawk. It looked to be on attack again. "Uh, oh," I thought to myself, " here we go. It's snack time for the hawk."
The sparrow and the hawk flew directly toward one another, a daring game of chicken now playing-out. Despite both birds gaining speed, the moment slowed, and I held my breath, anticipating the hawk's snatch of the little bird. Although I didn't want to see the sparrow meet its untimely death, of course, my morbid fascination pictured the scene quite clearly. My eyes, unblinking, were fixed upward.
Surprisingly, it was the hawk that balked. Chicken-shit, I thought. Fifteen or so feet away, the hawk had veered upward, out of the sparrow's direct line-of-fire. The sparrow stayed on course, though, hardly intimidated by the hawk's half-circle. And before I could blink my eyes, the sparrow was in hot pursuit again, matching the hawk's screech with its own chirps. There's no way, I thought to myself, that this sparrow would repeat his brave pecking attack like before.
I was wrong. Within seconds, the sparrow swooped in from behind the hawk, looking as if it had landed on the hawk's back. It hovered there, in full flight, before beginning to peck at the hawk again. The hawk's squawking assured us that it was as confused as we were by how this was playing out. The sparrow, after several seconds, lifted off the hawk, forfeiting a little distance, before continuing to tail the bigger bird.
I paused from the scene, realizing that I had missed the first player batting in the new inning. I looked around me, at my fellow spectators, amazed to see that half of them were, like me, also watching the scene in the sky unfold. And missing the game, too.
Well, the sparrow's attacks didn't stop. Soon, after some spreading of words and pointing of fingers, all of the spectators were looking up, completely mesmerized by the little bird's attacks, which kept coming every thirty seconds of so. As you probably guessed, it didn't take long before the baseball players joined in, pausing between plays and pitches, to look up at the sky and point.
The sparrow, incredibly, kept its attack on the hawk going for ten minutes, easy. By this time, we, the crowd, were "oohing" and "aahing," even going so far, on several occasions, to cheer for the underdog sparrow as it ducked from the hawk, redoubling its efforts to maneuver itself behind the hawk before going in for another round of aggressive pecking.
Finally, the scene stopped. Both birds must have been exhausted, if not hoarse. The hawk headed south while the sparrow turned northbound, toward the thicket of tall maple trees, finally abandoning its pursuit of the hawk. There seemed to be a unified cheer and a collective sigh of relief, from the fans, that the chase was over.
I have to be honest. It was hard to focus on the baseball game after this unplanned entertainment. Baseball game--boring. Little bird chasing big bird--exciting. For the next half hour, conversations were ceaseless about the bold, daring sparrow and "that wimpy hawk." Me, the one who practically grew up in the woods among my forestry family, was simply enthralled with the unfamiliar scene I had witnessed. I have no idea what brought on the sparrow's aggression but, nonetheless, appreciated the piss-and-vinegar that little shit of a bird had shown all of us.
Plus, this story packed more ammo than if the hawk had simply snatched the sparrow from midair during the earlier scuffling.
I always root for the underdog. I don't know why, although it seems that I inherited this trait from my mother. Watching the nature shows as a child, I remember her always rooting for the unfortunate animal being chased by the lionesses or the cheetahs. Really, who roots for a warthog?
But this little sparrow? I'll tell you what--that little bird single-handedly stirred up a whole baseball season worth of excitement. It was that cool. I love these little life moments that turn your thought process upside-down. I mean, really, I doubt I will ever see a sparrow kick a hawk's ass again. Ever.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering who won the game, I'll tell you. The underdog team did.
As always, big thanks for reading. I hope you all had a great weekend. A belated "Happy Father's Day" to all of you real men who step up to the plate every day, trying your best to be a good father-figure in someone's life. Well done. See you all Wednesday, June 23...