Grand Junction, Colorado
A pair of prairie falcons have nested in the massive cottonwood across the street, and I find them fascinating as they dart from tree to tree, perch on the backyard fence, or land in the street to drink from an ephemeral pond created by a neighbor watering his yard.
A sandy, speckled raptor a bit larger than a raven, the prairie falcon has a powerful body, tapered wings, and a narrow tail that spreads in flight. Adapted to desert life, it feeds primarily on small mammals like mice and voles. The prairie falcon’s cruising speed nears 50 miles per hour, but in a dive they can reach 100 miles per hour, a truly amazing speed. When they call out, they make a high-pitched piping sound similar to an osprey’s cry. Sometimes the notes are clear, and sometimes they have a rasping undertone.
The female, the larger member of the species, tends to stay near the nest, while the male will range across the nearby territory in order to take an intruder, most likely an owl or hawk, by surprise. So, the falcon that perches on our house’s roof ridge or in our mulberry tree is usually the male.
One evening, the male settled into the Siberian elm across the alley from my backyard. Reclining in my lawn chair, I studied it as it preened its tailfeathers and stretched its wings, preparing to bed down for the evening. Even after the sun was gone, I could still see it silhouetted against the dusk’s western glow. Nearby, the crescent moon emerged in the darkening sky. It was in conjunction with Venus, the brightest planet, symbol of the Meso-American deity Quetzalcoatl, and they all created a line of sacred objects – moon, Venus, and falcon – sentinels in the growing night.
It was a moment of great magic and beauty – the wilderness gracing the city with its holy presence.