I heard them about ten or fifteen seconds before I saw them: They let out two or three mournful shrieks, though at first they were concealed behind a local stand of trees. Two red-tailed hawks, gliding maybe a hundred feet above me.
They were keeping roughly opposite one another in the same lazy circle, about fifteen or twenty feet across, as it slowly drifted east to west above me.
Five-fifteen pm – with last weekend's time change, that puts it about two hours before sunset around here. So it's really the same story everywhere, I suppose: they're wrapping up the day, on the commute home (if it's the same pair that's been around for several years, they nest near an overpass about half a mile from here) and just looking for some take-out for dinner. Some evenings you just don't feel like cooking, you know?
A running joke among my condo neighbors is that when we feed the birds and squirrels we're just fattening them up for the hawks. That may be why I've taken to feeding the crows (who, from their point of view, have taken to training me to feed them when they give the right mid-morning call): I'm sure a crow would lose a street fight with a hawk, but they're too smart to get caught, and anyway the hawks would probably prefer something a little more epicurean than crow. Something tasty and delicate like a mourning dove, many of which have moved back into the neighborhood in the last few weeks and are – and I mean this in the nicest way – among the dumbest and most target-worthy creatures in North America.
And I'd never have known the hawks were there if I'd been in a car.