Tom McGuane on Raptors

Novelist Tom McGuane, while noted for his horses and pointing dogs, has always had a feel for birds of prey,  notices them, and on occasion writes lyrically about them. There is a vivid set piece in the novel Something to Be Desired, in which which the protagonist, LucienTaylor,  takes his young son, who does not live with him, to lure a Prairie falcon in to trap on a pigeon, using a falconry practice to band the bird to study. The child is frightened, startled  by the bird’s falling from the sky like a hammer onto the  luckless bait bird, but Lucien is ecstatic, with the emotions of a true hawk trapper.
“There were feathers everywhere, and the hawk beat in a blur of cold fury, striking at Lucien with his downcurving knife of a beak and superimposing his own screech over the noise of James. “We’ve got him, James!” James, quiet now, looked ready to run. The hawk had stopped all motion but kept his beak marginally parted so that the small, hard black tongue could be seen advancing and retreating slightly within his mouth. ‘It’s a prairie falcon. It’s the most beautiful bird in the world. I want to come back as a prairie falcon.’ “

This is a man who has been there. Here is another lyrical piece, from the more recent Driving  On the Rim:

1 thought on “Tom McGuane on Raptors”

  1. Re passage hawks, I have always loved this paragraph from Gilbert Blaine's "Falconry," in which he describes newly trapped passage (haggard actually) falcons:

    "Sitting nervous and upright on the pole in [the] hawk-house… you were at once struck at the difference between them and eyasses. The erect carriage, the flat back with a depression between the shoulders, the trim, crisp plumage, bleached by sun and wind, with a powdery bloom upon it, the clear yellow of the cere and feet, the perfect symmetry of the contour, all denote a quality that is lacking in the eyass. Here is the perfection of health and condition. Take one on your hand and remove her hood. What a brilliant eye and noble expression! There is wildness, shyness, but no guile. Hood her and put her back at once; you do not wish to cause her any distress. You will never again see this hawk looking so splendid and so beautiful. It is all soon lost in captivity. But even after years of confinement, the experienced eye will detect the difference between the passage hawk and the eyass."



Leave a Comment