Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blakeman on Red-tails vs Great Horned Owls, Defining Haggard, Plus Shakespeare and The Taming Of the Shrew

Photo-Donegal Browne
Rose at on a roof at Fordham preparing a meal for a nearly fledged eyass.

In the previous post down, there was a report about an interaction between Rose with a brown-tail for back up (yearling Red-tailed Hawk) and the Great Horned Owls of the New York Botanical Garden. I asked Ohio Red-tail expert John Blakeman to comment. He was unaware at the time that Rose had lost her mate Hawkeye some months ago.


Weird, from several points.

But first, the red-tail haggard would not attack the owl. She knows better. Contrary to the presentation, the tiercel owl was bigger than the formel hawk. The owl weighs more, and is really much stronger than the hawk.

I'm certain that all of this is territorial. This is just the time of year when nesting red-tails are booting out of their territories all of the unwelcomes. Usually, they can't displace great horned owls, just as was seen here. The big owls just hunker down and let the hawks flap about and get their blood pressure up. But no red-tail will (more than once, anyway) attack one of these lethal Tigers of the Night Sky.

But what about the immature red-tail participating in this territorial dance? Under normal circumstances, this immature bird should be no more welcome in the adults' nesting territory than the owls themselves.

Here's my only explanation, but it's pretty speculative.

I think the formel haggard would allow the incursion of the immature red-tail only if the pair bond with her normal mate were either dissolved or weakened. Has the haggard tiercel red-tail died? Has he moved off somewhere else? In either case, the formel can allow the incursion of a new potential mate within a day or less. This is one reason that mated, nesting red-tails do so much flying around in January throughout the entire breeding season, continually signally to the mate that "I'm here, all is well."

In this case, perhaps the tiercel haggard is not there, or not well, which prompted the formel to allow the immature to come in and strut his moderate stuff.

There are a few records of immature red-tails pair-bonding and nesting with full adults.

This was not any pack hunting. Red-tails simply do not do this in any deliberate or practiced manner. This was just the immature finding what was to him an un-mated adult with a territory that he might be able to take up residence and begin nesting.

But, if the immature was a formel herself, all of this falls apart.

Nonetheless, the owls are safe, regardless of the red-tails' show of the flag (well, the flared feathers).

--John Blakeman

Here are Mr. M (top) and Mrs. M (bottom) two haggards of Wisconsin.

If you'll remember photographer Francois Portmann and I were discussing the female pronoun used as the universal pronoun in hawks when one doesn't know their sex. Francois had included a link to an essay which spoke about the "she" pronoun issue, but also gave a definition of haggard supposedly used in falconry which didn't match up with the way John Blakeman used it.

This is the definition from the essay--
"Haggard is the falconer’s term for a bird whose training came too late, leaving her inclined to take off on her own, ignoring his whistle to return, and so causing him hours of worried effort, perhaps losing her altogether to the wild."

This was used with a reference to Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew which as I trained and worked as a Shakespearean Actress, and had I run across this during my character research would have colored my performance of Kate with a bent to her being purposely uncooperative and kind of a jerk. Not that Petruchio doesn't deserve it you understand but it does make her less likable.

Here is John Blakeman's definition--


No, this is not a generally-regarded falconer's definition of a haggard. Too complicated, and not useful, either for falconers or raptor watchers.

Simply, a haggard is an adult raptor. For a red-tail, it's a bird gaining or possessing a red tail. Purely, in falconry usage, a haggard has never been trained for falconry. A falconer may be flying a 5-yr old bird that was trapped in its first migration. It's now an adult, but will never be a haggard. Haggards are always wild birds. Falconers never trap or attempt to use a wild-trapped (there is no other kind) haggard.

Now here's another falconry term, which has no usage for hawk watchers. We falconers talk about the age of our bird by referring to how many molts it's been through in the falconer's care. When the bird is carried through a summer molt, it is said to be "intermewed." The 5-yr old bird would be said to be 5x-intermewed.

Wild hawks are not "intermewed." They pass the molt on their own, without a falconer's assistance, so the term has no use among hawk watchers.

--John Blakeman

Therefore plainly, a haggard is a wild bird, plain and simple. She is not tame. There has never been an attempt to tame her and therefore she has not failed in any way, been incompetent, uncooperative with the program or just plain jerky. She in short has been herself. And a hawk being herself is a great thing of beauty.

I then went off to research the etymology of the word haggard in regard to hawks. (Sorry my OED is in NYC so I had to make do with the available Internet sources.)

Main Entry: 1hag•gard
Pronunciation: \ˈha-gərd\
Etymology: Middle French hagard
Date: 1567
1 of a hawk : not tamed

Ah ha! The original usage taken from Middle French in 1567, is an untamed hawk, i.e. a wild hawk. As Shakespeare lived from 1564-1616, had noble relatives on his mother's side of the family that may have been falconers, and Shakespeare spoke French, ( He wrote several scenes in French in Henry V.) we can surmise with some confidence that his definition of haggard was the original, i.e. a wild hawk.

Therefore the take on playing Kate in Shakespeare's play would be that Kate in her wild free fierceness is being what she is naturally is, an unrestrained creature of beauty and will. She is not being uncooperative, she is not failing in training, she is being herself. A beautiful unrestrained formel.

But wait! Look what happens around 1913 to the definition of haggard--

The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48
Haggard \Hag"gard\, n. [See Haggard, a.]

1. (Falconry) A young or untrained hawk or falcon. [1913 Webster]
2. A fierce, intractable creature. [1913 Webster]
I have loved this proud disdainful haggard. --Shak. [1913 Webster]

The above definition prefaces its definition with (Falconry) which could mean it is a word used by falconers for a wild hawk, i.e., a haggard.

Then other dictionaries pick up this definition and bend it a bit further--


a. Appearing worn and exhausted; gaunt.
b. Wild or distraught in appearance.
2. Wild and intractable. Used of a hawk in falconry.
An adult hawk captured for training.

Suddenly instead of falconers using the word haggard for an untamed wild hawk, it is about "of a hawk in falconry", a hawk that is human held and therefore likely in training. And look at what haggard as a noun has become--An adult hawk captured for training ???

It completely skewers the original meaning and getting back to Shakespeare if you are a modern actor or director researching the play it skewers the play as well. Part of the reason Taming of the Shrew is considered in modern times, rather a "problem play", is not only for Petruchio's treatment of Kate but for that inexplicable last speech where Kate goes down on her knees and seems to recant her previous behavior to Petruchio. Often done these days with a wink and a nod on Kate's part towards the audience, as if she is just humoring him and keeping him from embarrassment in public, which doesn't really quite work.

But what if the original definition of the word haggard were used to color the play. Ordinarily Kate is a wild hawk, fierce and free but Petruchio instead of being played as a falconer who can't make her cooperate by not feeding her, etc. and must take her by force. obviously Kate doesn't bond with him, but let's say for yayas, that Petruchio is played as a tiercel at some point along the way, a tiercel who has invaded Kate the formel's hawk territory, taking the prey she regards as hers, zooming through her territory as an interloper, she would take after him and rebuff him but with his continued attentions she begins to be wooed , in her last speech Kate talks about Petruchio putting himself in danger for her, defending her, feeding her as teircels do for formels in courting and keeping her safe--- as a mate would--- that speech becomes the moment in which she makes a pair bond with Petruchio, she accepts him as her bonded mate, in RTH parlance her talons drop and she accepts him, the food he offers, and the ensuing sexual favors, and they will then live life as a team, a duo in cooperation.

My apologies for going on about this for those of you who don't know the play. (Read it or get it on DVD, it's wonderful even if not exactly played these days likely as the Bard had in mind.) But for me to see the transition in meaning of a word Shakespeare uses in the play for Kate, was an epiphany as to possibly being able to put what Shakespeare actually had in mind back in the play so that it works like it should.

Boy oh boy, would I love to try it.

Now from the sublime to people who just haven't a clue how dangerous what they are doing is...and with three little kids right there with them. Watch this video that Robin of Illinois sent in. I've also sent the link to John Blakeman who I know he will have a few choice words to say about it--

Over 30 Eagles in the back yard.

The father says the reason the immatures are so close is because "they have something to prove". Something to prove, my great Aunt's pajamas, the immatures are often hungrier and less well fed due to inferior hunting skills than adults and they haven't learned a healthy fear of people yet...healthy for them but also healthier for the people who are being dopes. And their hunting skills are not being honed they are just being taught to be beggars dependent on people.

Besides Eagles are famous for snatching food from each other and from all kinds of other species including bears who are much bigger than we are.

And as my Great Aunt used to say, "Och, the loonies, Saints preserve them!"

Donegal Browne

No comments: