comments_image Comments

Raptor porn: The ridiculous proliferation of the red-tail call

Once my partner Kathe and I were hiking at Fossil Butte in Wyoming when we heard a red-tailed hawk. We peered, hands over foreheads, at the huge Western sky, as rabbitbrush and sage scuffled in the wind. Bits of dirt pelted our calves. It was perfect soaring weather, warm and windy, the hawk hunting for prey with eyes that can make out headlines a mile away. Kathe then told me about a romance novel she’d read in which the heroine would scream like a red-tailed hawk – which is very hard to do – in order to call in her helpful wild mustang named Lucifer. Kreeeer, kreeeer we called, laughing, to the horseless landscape.

Just as steam is a visual cue for Mechanical Failure or Brooding Evil in science-fiction film, so too is the cry of the red-tailed hawk an auditory signal for Wildness in everything from romance novels to films and TV shows. Few sounds are more piercing. So, of course, our use of this call is another iteration of how we use animals in our stories, from fairy tales to myths. Around the world, birds of prey have been venerated as gods, royalty, warriors, sacred messengers, protectors and prophets. New Agers sometimes talk of a hawk’s presence as giving vision to earth activists, those tree-hugging, spirit-animal, the-revolution-won’t-be-motorized folks who may or may not know a hawk’s feather from a robin’s. But the red-tail cry is no longer woven into a narrative fabric explaining the relational roles of humans and animals in the world, as in, say, the Cheyenne tale of how a hawk beat a bison in a race, thus sparing humans from being eaten by bison and allowing us to hunt them instead.

Continue Reading...