By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published January 6, 2005
‘Twas a stormy spring night when a baby red-shouldered hawk blew out of its nest in a tall pine tree by a duck pond down the street from the Cathedral of Christ the King. But a neighborhood Labrador Retriever named Pearl discovered it and fetched his owner who rescued it, building it a new nest.
The owner’s husband built a 10-foot wooden stand to protect the baby bird from raccoons and other critters and placed him in a box-nest atop it by the tree from which he came—complete with a sign reading “shhh…baby hawk sleeping.”
Susan Murray Euart, a lifelong member of the Cathedral who lives across the street from the pond and grew up nearby in Garden Hills, watched with interest and decided, being an accomplished photographer of school, wedding and family portraits, to photograph it over 16 days in spring 2003 as it recovered and learned to fly—as normally they’re very hard to shoot, living up to 90 feet high in the trees. She came out every morning and evening, about two hours daily, and lingered with camera in hand to catch action shots. She went on to use the photos in a children’s book she wrote about it entitled “The Duck Pond Hawk.” “I really began to appreciate wildlife photographers and realize how patient you have to be sitting and waiting for the action. It’s really lucky when you get a great shot,” she said.
The book, written for children aged 5-8, is “a true story about caring, courage and growing up” featuring this fuzzy grey bird with a hook-shaped beak and innocent black button eyes. Told from baby hawk’s perspective, the book begins with the trauma of getting knocked out of the nest. “I was so scared!” said the bird.
After baby hawk was put in its makeshift nest, Mama and Papa began circling and crying out before landing on the nest within 30 minutes, bringing tasty snacks. She managed to capture the moment when Mama Hawk, after circling the area, reunited with baby in the nest. In the book baby declares, “I was so-o-o-o happy!!!…”
Throughout the story are questions to the young readers related to the scenes like “have you ever missed your parents?”
The parents continue to care for their baby, bringing more “yummy mice, delicious snakes, tasty voles and only the best bugs to eat.” “Mama came and took care of the baby, bringing food to it and sitting on top of it. It was like you could almost see her teaching it,” said Euart, who is the mother of six children and a nurse who has worked at local Catholic schools. “They say it takes 28 days for a hawk to begin its journey out of its shell and to fly off, so I shot him for 16 days. When he fell out, he was like 10 days to two weeks old.”
The book is filled with verdant images of the peaceful oasis of the pond with a bridge and lithe pines just a block or so off Peachtree Road. She’s found parents particularly like how the book interacts with their children with the reader questions. “They were so surprised about how it started a dialogue. (Their children) told them all about their fears they had and special places they’ve loved,” she said.
She captures some humorous moments too, like baby dripping wet and in a bad mood, and when he scares everybody by balancing on the side of the box, only to proceed to lift his tail to “relieve himself.” The book ends, and a new adventure begins when Mama tells baby on the 15th day that it’s time to fly. The first time he flapped like Mama he “fell straight to the ground!” He was returned to the nest by a gentle man with gloves. On day 16, baby hawk tried again, only to quickly hit the pine needles and dirt. But that afternoon, he thought positive thoughts, said a little prayer and tried again. “I didn’t fly far but I flew!!!” he rejoiced. He then flew off to be the hawk God intended him to be. “The message is that life isn’t easy and you fall and stumble and you get up and try again. It doesn’t matter how many times you do it. You’ll do it and be fine and fly off and be a grown up,” Euart said.
Later, with the help and encouragement of her sister-in-law, she decided to write and self-publish the book. “I really did it for the neighborhood, and everybody said ‘you’ve got to get this published’ so I thought I’d give it a shot.”
Her friend Cecilia Edwards said that Euart is a caring person who loves children and that her volunteerism through the years has ranged from serving as a Little League coach to helping at the Gift of Grace House for HIV-positive women. The book “is a true story about good neighbors and the trials of growing up. It is written as a narrative with engaging questions for the young reader enabling the child to interact with the parent as they read the story together. The photographs taken by Susan give the story life, as the hawk grows up and learns to use his wings,” wrote Edwards about her friend’s book.
It’s sold over 200 copies, which has been a joyful experience for the author, and she hopes to find a publisher to reach more children and to lower the price. It now sells for $21.50. She believes it’s a unique gift in that it has actual photographs.
“It’s just been a fun experience. Even if it never gets published I’ll be happy. Each one of my kids has a copy to give to their kids. People have enjoyed it.”
It was also a bonding experience for the Peachtree Heights community, as neighbors and Christ the King School children watched during the day, and each evening more grown-ups would come out with their cocktails—and facts they’d found on the Internet on hawk behavior—and observe and discuss the young bird. “It was an emotional moment when he flew off. We all felt like we’d helped him to fly.”
To buy the book, call Euart at (404) 237-4757 or write firstname.lastname@example.org.