Hawk or falcon …

I don’t think it really mattered to the squirrel.

Walking up the steps to the main level of the Cathedral of Learning on Pitt’s campus this morning, I could not help but notice a magnificent bird of prey sitting atop a temporary fence cautiously looking around the lawn. It was a mess of ditches and fencing as new steam pipes are being laid to provide heat to the Heinz Chapel. A group of US Army ROTC personnel were going through their morning PT routine further ahead.

The bird of prey was likely a falcon, as there is a nest on top of the Cathedral that I was fortunate enough to see while attending a meeting on the 40th floor of the building, which looks like something from the Hogwart’s campus.

And yet it could have been a hawk, drawn to the campus by the large number of squirrels that feed on the acorns that are raining down from the tress lining the walks and streets of the campus on this cool early autumn morning.

One of those squirrels was just making its way out from beneath a bush when I think the eyes of the two creatures locked on each other. At that moment, I don’t think the squirrel cared whether the avian creature perched no more than 15 feet from it was a falcon, a hawk or a pterodactyl.

I paused, morbidly committed to watch whatever was about to unfold in front of me. I have a soft spot for squirrels as I provide a steady supply of peanuts for a family (or families) of them living in a tree near my house. I debated about whether to intervene should the falcon/hawk take flight toward the squirrel. The bird looked at me, then at the squirrel, then back at me. I was not sure if it thought I might be sizing up the bushy-tailed morsel and there would be conflict if it made a move toward it.

About 2 minutes into this standoff the squirrel finally dashed under a bush and the falcon turned its attention away from both me and the lost breakfast opportunity.

I had to get to my office but wonder if that squirrel is still among the countless marauding critters bouncing down the walkway of the Cathedral. I’ll never know if it was a falcon or a hawk, and if it made a meal of the squirrel. But it was a magical urban moment that I feel lucky to have witnessed, even without getting closure.

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